Explaining Amy Winehouse’s Strange Skin Infection

Grammy-winning British singer Amy Winehouse is well known for her overzealous eyeliner application and towering beehive. But when the troubled tabloid star stepped out in public in early March, she had a new, slightly more off-putting facial adornment: bumpy sores. Gossip sites speculated that the rash on her cheek could be the result of conditions ranging from leprosy to a flesh-eating virus. But her representative claims that the singer was actually suffering from impetigo, a surprisingly common skin infection.

Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin condition that results from open lesions, such as popped pimples and cold sores. The infection takes the form of honey-colored crusting on the skin and can be itchy and painful, according to Dr. Eric S. Siegel, a dermatologist in Millburn, N.J. "We see this on a daily basis," Siegel said. It often appears in children or among people who are in close contact with each other, since impetigo is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are "several million cases" of impetigo a year in the United States. The infection is usually caused by staph or strep bacteria and mainly affects infants and children, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Impetigo can usually be treated with topical or oral antibiotics and typically clears up in about a week. However, if it goes untreated for a long time it may leave scars, Siegel says. Luckily, Winehouse seems to have been spared. In more recent pictures her skin is problem-free. (If only the same could be said of her personal life.)

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