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Infectious Diseases

Impetigo v/s Cold sore

04/07/2003

Question:

How do you tell the difference between a cold sore that will go away on it`s own and Impetigo which needs to be treated with antibiodics or it will spread?

Answer:

Cold sores are caused by the virus herpes simplex and usually cause a tingling painful sensation in the affected area prior to the development of a cluster of small blisters. They then heal over a period of about one week without treatment. The diagnosis can be made if the sores look very typical, but can be proven by doing a viral culture for herpes. Cold sores also typically recur periodically, in the same area (lips and nose are common sites). Impetigo is caused by a bacteria, either staphylococcus or streptococcus. This can also start as blisters but these usually rupture quickly to produce a golden yellow crust. The lesions are typically painless, and do not tend to be recurrent. A culture will grow the offending bacteria. Antibiotics, either by mouth or topically, can speed the healing process.

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Response by:

Peter Grubbs, MD
Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati