Common problem’s simple treatment plan

DON'T PANIC: Impetigo or “school sores” is a contagious infection, framed with a “honey-crust”, most common in young children.
DON'T PANIC: Impetigo or “school sores” is a contagious infection, framed with a “honey-crust”, most common in young children.

What are school sores and how do you get rid of them? Impetigo, or “school sores”, is a contagious infection of the very top layer of skin. It’s most common in children aged two to six, and ends up spreading from child to child in schools and daycare centres.

The good news is that it’s unlikely to cause serious harm. It usually clears up within a few weeks, without any scarring. The usual culprit is the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, better known as “golden staph”. The bacteria commonly lives on skin, lurking in the groin and nostrils without causing problems. A second type of bacteria that causes impetigo is Streptococcus (strep) that can cause other infections such as tonsillitis and pharyngitis.

Impetigo appears on the skin one to three days after being infected by staph, or four to ten days after catching strep. It can occur on sores from scratches, insect bites and eczema, or on healthy skin.

The sores begin as red areas, or crops of small blisters, most commonly around the nose and mouth, and on the arms and legs. The sores then burst and begin to weep, before drying with a golden-coloured scab, often referred to as a “honey-crust”.

While impetigo is unlikely to cause problems in healthy people, it’s important to see a GP for an accurate diagnosis.

If only a small crop of sores is present, frequent washing with soap and water might be all that is needed. A prescription antibiotic ointment can also be used. If the sores are more widespread, or there is evidence of infection spreading into the deeper skin (cellulitis), oral antibiotics are often necessary. To prevent other family members catching the infection, don’t share any towels, face washers, clothes and bed linen, and put them on a hot wash. 

Kids are generally ready to go back to school once they’ve had 24 hours of antibiotics and if the sores are covered with dressings. For children not taking antibiotics, public health authorities recommend that children only return to school when the sores are completely healed.

Impetigo can occasionally lead to a further, dangerous infection. If children are feverish or lethargic, sores are spreading despite antibiotics, or you’re concerned your child looks unwell, see a doctor.

  • This article has been written by Dr Michael Tam and Dr Kristen Ochs, GP registrars at Fairfield Hospital and the Ingham Institute of Applied Medical Research’s GP Unit

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