School sores

School sores is the common name for impetigo, which is a highly contagious skin infection. The bacteria that cause impetigo are normally on the surface of the skin and in the air around us. When skin gets broken by scratches, insect bites or other injuries bacteria can enter the body, multiply and form sores around the injured area.

Children commonly get this condition, which is why it is called school sores, as they frequently pass it on to others around them. However, adults or those in contact with others with the sores can also develop the infection. Some people may also get infected after a cold or viral chest infection - those that live in cold or damp living conditions seem to be more likely to develop impetigo and to pass the condition onto others living around them.

The first sign of school sores is usually a fluid-filled blister that develops over an insect bite or other minor skin injury. The area is generally very itchy and scratching will break the blister, spreading bacteria-filled yellow fluid and leaving a reddened area of skin underneath. Scratching spreads the infection onto other areas and further damages intact skin. The open blister oozes a yellow fluid forming a crust, which develops into a sore.  Commonly the sores spread around that area and move to surrounding areas of skin, particularly around the lips and chin in children. The infection may also result in swollen glands in the groin if the sores are on the legs or in the armpit if the arms are affected.

School sores are easily treated with antibiotic cream or in more severe cases, antibiotics taken by mouth. As the fluid from the sores and the crust helps spread the infection when touched, the sores must be covered with a dressing or sticking plaster, if possible. Washing the affected areas and surrounding skin gently with warm soapy water or an antiseptic skin wash helps to remove the surface bacteria and wash away the crust. This should be done at least twice a day to aid healing and prevent the sores spreading further. Care must be taken to change washcloths and towels after each use in order to prevent spreading the infection to others.

Most cases of school sores heal quickly once effective treatment is started and the skin usually heals without scarring. Young children often get re-infected, by themselves or others, so it is important to check their skin carefully for injuries or the early signs of blisters and sores developing.

Treatment depends on the severity of the infection. If a topical application is appropriate, then it is recommended to start with an antiseptic ointment. Topical antibiotics can also be prescribed by your doctor where appropriate. If the school sores are more extensive then oral antibiotics may be required. As the fluid from the sores and the crust helps spread the infection when touched, the sores must be covered with a dressing or sticking plaster, if possible. Washing the affected areas and surrounding skin gently with warm soapy water or an antiseptic skin wash helps to remove the surface bacteria and wash away the crust. This should be done at least twice a day to aid healing and prevent the sores spreading further. Care must be taken to change washcloths and towels after each use in order to prevent spreading the infection to others. 

Consult your community pharmacist if you believe you or your family may have impetigo or other skin infections. In some cases, early detection of school sores can be treated with products that you can buy over the counter from a pharmacy. Your pharmacist is able to guide you to effective treatment or refer you to your doctor to treat school sores, as well as to give you advice to manage and to prevent further infection.