Is Molluscum Contagiosum?
Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a virus. The
virus, called the Molluscum contagiosum
virus, produces benign raised lesions,
or bumps, on the upper layers of your skin.
The small bumps are usually painless. They disappear on their own
and rarely leave scars when they’re left untreated. The length of time the
virus lasts varies for each person, but the bumps can last from two months to
Molluscum contagiosum is spread by direct contact with the lesion
of an infected person or by contact with a contaminated object, such as a towel
or a piece of clothing.
Medication and surgical treatments are available, but treatment isn’t
necessary in most cases. The virus can be more difficult to treat if you have a
weakened immune system.
Are the Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum?
If you or your child comes into contact with the M. contagiosum virus, you may not see
symptoms of infection for up to six months. The average incubation period is
between two and seven weeks.
You may notice the appearance of a small group of painless
lesions. These bumps may appear alone or in a patch of as many as 20. They’re
- very small, shiny, and smooth in appearance
- flesh-colored, white, or pink
- firm and shaped like a dome with a dent or
dimple in the middle
- filled with a central core of waxy material
- between 2 to 5 millimeters in diameter, or
between the size of the head of a pin and the size of an eraser on the top of a
- present anywhere except on the palms of your
hands or the soles of your feet
- present on the face, abdomen, torso, arms, and
- present on the inner thigh, genitals, or abdomen
However, if you have a weakened immune system, you may have
symptoms that are more significant. Lesions may be as large as 15 millimeters
in diameter, which is about the size of a dime. The bumps appear more often on the
face and are typically resistant to treatment.
Are the Causes of Molluscum Contagiosum?
You can get molluscum contagiosum by touching the lesions on the
skin of an infected person. Children can get the virus during normal play with
Teens and adults are more likely to become infected through
sexual contact. You can also become infected during contact sports that involve
touching bare skin, such as wrestling or football.
The virus can survive on surfaces that have been touched by the
skin of an infected person. Therefore, it’s possible to contract the virus by
handling towels, clothing, toys, or other items that have been contaminated.
Sharing sports equipment that someone’s bare skin has touched can
also cause the transfer of this virus. The virus can be left on the equipment and
passed to the next person. This includes items such as baseball gloves,
wrestling mats, and football helmets.
If you have this condition, you can spread the infection
throughout your body. You can transfer the virus from one part of your body to
another by touching, scratching, or shaving a bump and then touching another
part of your body.
Are the Risk Factors for Molluscum Contagiosum?
Anyone can get molluscum contagiosum, but certain groups of
people are more likely to become infected than others. These groups include:
- children between the ages of 1 and 10
- people who live in tropical climates
- people with weakened immune systems caused by
factors such as HIV, organ transplants, or cancer treatments
- people who have atopic dermatitis, which is a common form of eczema
that causes scaly and itchy rashes
- people who participate in contact sports, such
as wrestling or football, in which bare skin-to-skin contact is common
How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Diagnosed?
Because the skin bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum have a
distinct appearance, your doctor often can diagnose the infection by merely
looking at the affected area. A skin scraping or biopsy can confirm the
It’s usually unnecessary to treat molluscum contagiosum, but you
should always have your doctor examine any skin lesions that last longer than a
few days. A confirmed diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum will rule out other
causes for the lesions, such as skin cancer, chickenpox, or warts.
Is Molluscum Contagiosum Treated?
In most cases, if you have a healthy immune system, it will not
be necessary to treat the lesions caused by molluscum contagiosum. The bumps
will fade away without medical intervention.
However, some circumstances may justify the need for treatment. You
may be a candidate for treatment if:
- your lesions are large and located on your face
- you have an existing skin disease such as atopic
- you have serious concerns about spreading the
The most effective treatments for molluscum contagiosum are
performed by a doctor and include the following:
- During cryotherapy,
your doctor uses liquid nitrogen to freeze each bump.
- During curettage,
your doctor uses a small tool to pierce the bump and scrape it off the skin.
- During laser
therapy, your doctor uses a laser to destroy each bump.
- During topical
therapy, your doctor applies creams containing acids or chemicals to the
bumps to induce peeling of the top layers of the skin.
In some cases, these techniques can be painful and cause
scarring. Anesthesia may also be necessary.
Since these methods involve treating each bump, a procedure may
require more than one session. If you have many large bumps, re-treatment may
be necessary every three to six weeks until the bumps disappear. New bumps may
appear as the existing ones are treated.
In some cases, your doctor may prescribe the following
- trichloroacetic acid
- topical podophyllotoxin cream, such as Condylox
- cantharidin (Cantharone), which is obtained from
the blister beetle and applied by your doctor
- imiquimod (Aldara)
If you’re pregnant, planning
to become pregnant, or breast-feeding, let your doctor know about your
condition before taking these medications or any others.
If your immune system is weakened by diseases such as HIV or by
drugs such as those used for treating cancer, it may be necessary to treat
molluscum contagiosum. Successful treatment is more difficult for people with
weakened immune systems than it is for those with normal immune systems.
Antiretroviral, or anti-HIV, medications are the most effective
treatment for people with HIV who are infected with molluscum contagiosum
because these medications can work to strengthen the immune system to fight the
It’s important to talk to your doctor before attempting any
treatments for molluscum contagiosum.
Is the Long-Term Outlook for People with Molluscum Contagiosum?
A molluscum contagiosum infection will usually go away on its own
if your immune system is healthy. Typically, this happens gradually within six
to 12 months and without scarring. However, for some, it may take from a few
months up to a few years for your bumps to disappear. The infection can be more
persistent and last even longer for people with immune system problems.
Once the lesions fade, the molluscum virus is no longer present
in your body. When this happens, you can’t spread the virus to others or to other
parts of your body. You’ll see more bumps only if you become infected again.
Unlike with chickenpox, if you have had molluscum contagiosum once, you’re not
protected against being infected again.
Can Molluscum Contagiosum Be Prevented?
The best way to avoid getting molluscum contagiosum is to avoid
touching the skin of another person who has the infection. Following these
suggestions can also help you prevent the spread of the infection:
- Practice effective hand washing with warm water
- Instruct children in proper hand-washing
techniques since they’re more likely to use touch in play and interaction with
- Avoid sharing personal items. This includes towels,
clothing, hairbrushes, or bar soaps.
- Avoid using shared sports gear that may have
come in direct contact with someone else’s bare skin.
- Avoid picking at or touching areas of your skin
where the bumps exist.
- Keep the bumps clean and covered to prevent
yourself or others from touching them and spreading the virus.
- Avoid shaving or using electrolysis where the
bumps are located.
- Avoid sexual contact if you have bumps in the