Sore subject

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Impetigo is highly contagious and hard to get rid of. Jill Wyatt wants to ban nose-pickers

It may not be in the job description, but most teachers will feel bound, by revulsion, irritation or regard for hygiene, to discourage their young charges from picking their noses, biting their nails or sucking their fingers. The germs to be found in these areas are sufficient justification to tackle those who persist in indulging in undesirable habits.

The loose connection between nose picking and impetigo (or school sores) is a case in point. The bacteria staphylococcus or streptococcus, which cause this skin infection, can lurk inside the noses of children and adults. If, however, through a finger wandering up that nose, it then gets transferred to an area of broken skin elsewhere, through scratches or insect bites, for example, infection may result.

WHO GETS IMPETIGO?

Impetigo often occurs during times of reduced resistance, such as when children are suffering from a cold or other virus. Children and adolescents with eczema are susceptible. Adults are not immune, especially if they happen to be stressed teachers in close contact with a child sporting active sores.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

Impetigo can usually be diagnosed by its appearance, although it can sometimes be confused with cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus.

The first signs of the infection are inflamed, itchy or sore red spots.

These are commonly found on the hands and around the mouth, nose and back of the ears, although severe infections can affect the whole body. The spots quickly join up and blister.

Within the first 24 hours of infection, the blisters start to discharge pus. Over the next four to six days these break down and form yellow or brown crusts. Other symptons include fever, aches and pains.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?

Impetigo often appears suddenly without an apparent cause, it is usually spread through direct contact with an infected person. Sharing towels with an infected person is an easy way to pick up the infection.

Impetigo is infectious while the sores are discharging pus.

WHAT'S THE TREATMENT?

Treatment for impetigo is simple and involves washing with soap and water and letting the skin dry in the air. Antibiotic creams and ointments, such as fusidic acid or mupirocin, can be applied to the spots using cotton wool, but if the infection is spreading rapidly oral antibiotics, such as flucloxacillin or erythromycin, may be the best option. The condition usually heals within a week Children with impetigo should be kept off school until the spots have dried up and are no longer leaking fluid.

Taking preventative action The most useful action you can take is to remind children of the importance of hygiene, such as regularly washing their hands and not sharing towels.

Protect yourself in the same way.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

* Impetigo is a common infection and affects an estimated one in 1000 people.

* Impetigo is found in all parts of the world.

lIt tends to occur in small outbreaks. Epidemics are rare.

* It is highly contagious and mainly found in children.

* It may spread rapidly in schools.

* Sensible hygiene precautions prevent the spread of the bacteria causing impetigo and reduce the risk of other people catching it.

* Impetigo spreads through scratching the itchy spots that indicate the condition.

* Children should be excluded from schools after the start of antibiotic therapy and until the blisters have stopped discharging and have healed up.

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