What is Impetigo? Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Signs, and What it Looks Like

Keeping a keen eye on your child’s overall wellbeing in their developmental years is crucial to their health. Kids are pretty gross, are willing to do nasty things like swallow dirt filled with worms and lick the grimy floor for fun. If you discover a mysterious rash or cluster of sores on your tot, you’d better get to the doctor for a concise diagnosis before you infer it’s ubiquitous and uneventful.

Those unsightly lesions around little Aiden’s mouth might be a mere extension of tremendously chapped lips—which is often caused by incessant licking of the lips in a futile attempt to keep them moist—or it could be an indication of impetigo, a blisteringly dourer situation (pun intended).

Huh? What is impetigo? I’ve never heard of it! Well, we’re here to break it down for ya. We’ll start with the basics—the impetigo definition.

What Is Impetigo?

Formerly termed ‘impetigo contagiosum,’ this bacterial infection of the skin’s name has since been shortened to just ‘impetigo.’ Don’t let your tongue slip you up—the correct pronunciation yields a format of quadruple syllables, and according to Merriam Webster, sounds like this: im-pə-ˈtē-(ˌ)gō. Or, for those who don’t read in phonetic symbols—im PUH TYE go (emphasis on the capitalized letters).

The meaning lies in the etymology of the designation, which originated in the 14th century (Middle English). The word is derived from the Latin term for ‘to attack’ (impetere) and can be linked to ‘impetus.’

The modern impetigo definition is as follows: a highly contagious disease affecting the skin (of children in particular), typically characterized by yellowish, crusty, scabby sores on the face that develop post pustular eruption.

The 2010 version of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD 10) is L01.0 and is further subclassified in a range from L01.00 (unspecified) to L01.09 (other), then to L01.1, which is the impetiginization of alternative skin diseases (dermatoses). Note, these codes exclude impetigo herpetiformis.

What Are the First Signs of Impetigo?

The initial signs of impetigo include what is oft confused for a rash. The papules typically appear on the face, around the nasal area and the lips. The first signs are synonymous with its appearance, so we’ll painstakingly describe how impetigo exhibits itself to the naked eye after the jump.

The aforementioned pustules bear the hallmarks of blisters, and once they burst, hideous scabs form.

While impetigo usually plagues the face, other areas of the body can pick up on the disease as well. Similarly, impetigo mostly affects babies and children, but teenagers and adults have been reported to acquire it too.

What Does it Look Like?

There are three forms of impetigo, all with slightly varying appearances.

Nonbullous Impetigo begins with reddish marks that grow into blisters of the same color. These blisters will be one or two centimeters around and typically pop up in groups. After they inevitably rupture, the sore crusts over and will imitate the color of honey and the surrounding skin will look raw like uncooked meat.

Bullous Impetigo presents bullae (large blisters). The bullae become filled with fluid that’s transparent at first, turning cloudier over time. Once these bullae break, a similar yellowy crust forms like the above type.

Ecthyma Impetigo has roots much deeper in the skin than the previously mentioned variations. Therefore, the blisters that grow are usually significantly larger—up to three centimeters in diameter. The crust is also thicker, and the nearby skin will take on a purplish hue.

Impetigo Symptoms

What all three types share is the level of contagiousness. Impetigo is easily passed on from person to person via direct contact or by sharing linens or clothes. The same format of transmission applies to the patient as well—they can spread the rash to various body parts by touching the sores and contacting an unscathed region.

The blistery, oozing lesions are the most common complaint from impetigo patients. These sores are not only unattractive but can be insanely itchy and even painful.

Rare, Uncommon Impetigo Symptoms

In rarer cases, an impetigo outbreak is accompanied by swollen lymph nodes and/or a fever. In even more rare instances, post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis can develop in the kidneys.

Common Impetigo Causes

Earlier we discussed the different kinds of impetigo, these all obviously develop as a result of different strains of bacteria. The main impetigo causes are staph (Staphylococcus aureus) and/or strep (Streptococcus pyogenes).

These bacteria are more likely to make their home inside the dermis when an existing wound is exposed, and warm, humid weather provides an excellent breeding ground for such transmissions. With an open cut, keep it clean and covered to prevent anything nasty from making its way inside.

Take Care

Upon initial sighting of impetigo in yourself or your baby, don’t hesitate to seek treatment advice from a dermatologist, pediatrician or general practitioner. Topical ointments, antibiotics, and even homeopathic, natural remedies are readily available at your fingertips to halt impetigo in its tracks and prevent spreading amongst family members and peers.

Document the progression of treatment by snapping pictures should any unforeseen complications arise and an alternative course of action needs to be put in place.



Article References:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/impetigo/symptoms-causes/syc-20352352
  2. https://w.medicinenet.com/impetigo/article.htm
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/impetigo
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/162945.php
  5. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/impetigo
  6. https://medlineplus.gov/impetigo.html