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Infant Tiger (AKA Skin Infection 101)

“Be careful; otherwise that’s gonna get infected!”

I hear this threat a fair amount, and in fact have said it to my own kids (because I’m such a charmer). But what does that really mean, actually? Let’s make sure you know what you’re talking about, so you can be your usual heavy hitter self.

Fact & vocabulary first.



any time there’s a break in the skin barrier, germs can invade the skin layers and cause infection. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes it does. Price of doing business as a human being on the planet. Treatable.


when this infection happens in the surface layer of the skin, it’s called IMPETIGO (pronounced “im-puh-TY-go”) . I get a big crackup from all the different iterations of this word; my favorite being “infant tiger.” Gotta love it.

Impetigo is classically described as yellow or “honey colored” fluid drainage overlying a scratch or a break in the skin. Notice that I did NOT say “pus.” The drainage is indeed made up of infection fighting material, however. Sometimes it’s impossible to see the break in the skin; it can come from a minute scratch. Then, bacteria that lives on all of our skin surfaces can invade the surface layers. There’s often some redness in the area but it’s usually not painful and there’s minimal swelling. Common places to get impetigo in younger kids are around the nostrils and mouth. Impetigo is easily treated with antibiotic ointment or oral antibiotics, or both depending on severity.

Impetigo is easily spread, so keep these things in mind:

– Avoid direct contact with others to avoid spreading. No sharing anything that touched the infection, such as washcloths.
– It helps to keep fingernails short so the bacteria can’t live under the nails.
– Kids should be kept out of school and activities ’til the infection clears up, however, properly covering the sores with bandages will also reduce the risk of spread.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the normal fluid associated with typical wound healing and impetigo, so it’s important to get checked by a clinician, but you can help prevent this surface infection by
1. Avoiding scratching insect bites and irritating other skin scratches, blisters, etc.
2. Keeping scratches, bites and blisters clean by washing gently twice daily with soapy water, patting dry, then covering the skin area with an antibiotic ointment like bacitracin or Neosporin.
3. Being aware that if there seems to be increasing or more fluid draining from the area than you think seems “typical,” (and I get it that this is a judgment call, but it just is- be your smart self) then it’s important to get that area checked out right away.

Lots of kids get impetigo, and lots of kids get over it and get better quickly. And now, if your child is one of them, you are the heavy hitter that I knew you were, and will know what to look for. Go, you.


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