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Impetigo: Who gets and causes

Who gets impetigo?

Children aged 2 to 5 years old are most likely to get this extremely contagious skin infection.

However, anyone can get impetigo. Older children and adults get it. Adults often catch impetigo from an infected child.

Some athletes have a higher risk of catching it. Because of the skin-to-skin contact in sports like wrestling and football, these athletes often get impetigo. The bacteria that cause impetigo thrive in warm, humid places, so swimmers also have an increased risk.

Kids often have skin-to-skin contact. Impetigo is very contagious and spreads with close contact.

Group of diverse children holding hands

Summer can catch it from touching an infected surface or sharing a towel with a swimmer who has impetigo.

People who live in hot, humid areas get more cases of impetigo. In the United States, people often catch it in the summer or fall.

What causes impetigo?

Bacteria cause this highly contagious skin infection.

Most people develop it when the bacteria, usually staph or strep, invade injured skin. A scrape on your skin is often enough to get infected. The bacteria may also get in through a cut, insect bite, or anything else that damages the skin. Once inside, the bacteria cause an infection in the top layers of the skin.

Sometimes, the bacteria invade uninjured skin and cause impetigo.

Getty Images

Ashack KA, Burton KA et al. “Skin infections among US high school athletes: A national survey.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016 Apr;74(4):679-84.

Craft, N, Lee PK, et al. “Superficial cutaneous infections and pyodermas.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008: 1695-8.

Halpern AV and Heymann WR. “Bacterial diseases.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008:1075-6.