What is molluscum contagiosum?
Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin disease that is caused by a virus. The disease is generally mild and should not be a reason for concern or worry.
Molluscum infection causes small white, pink, or flesh-colored bumps or growths with a dimple or pit in the center. The bumps are usually smooth and firm and can appear anywhere on the body.
They may become sore, red, and swollen but are usually painless. The bumps normally disappear within six months to twelve months without treatment and without leaving scars. In people with weakened immune systems, molluscum growths may grow very large, spread more easily to other parts of the body and may be harder to cure.
How do people get molluscum contagiosum?
People with this skin disease can cause the bumps to spread to different parts of their body. This is called autoinoculation. Such spread can occur by touching or scratching a bump and then touching another part of the body.
The virus can be spread from person to person. This can happen if the growths on one person are touched by another person. It can happen if the virus gets on an object that is touched by other people. Examples of such objects are towels, clothing and toys. Molluscum can also be spread from one person to another by sexual contact. Anyone who develops bumps in the genital area (on or near the penis, vulva, vagina or anus) should see a health care provider. Bumps in these areas sometimes mean that molluscum or some other disease was spread through sexual contact.
How to Prevent the Spread of Molluscum
Wash Your Hands
There are ways to prevent the spread of molluscum contagiosum. The best way is to follow good hygiene (cleanliness) habits. Keeping your hands clean is the best way to avoid molluscum infection, as well as many other infections. Hand washing removes germs that may have been picked up from other people or from surfaces that have germs on them. See the Clean Hands Saves Lives site under RESOURCES in the right-hand column.
Do not Scratch or Pick at Molluscum Bumps
It is important not to touch, pick or scratch skin that has bumps or blisters. Picking and scratching can spread the virus to other parts of the body and makes it easier to spread the disease to other people, too.
Keep Molluscum Bumps Covered
It is important to keep the area with molluscum growths clean and covered with clothing or a bandage so that others do not touch the bumps and become infected with molluscum. Do remember to keep the affected skin clean and dry.
However, when there is no risk of others coming into contact with your skin, such as at night when you sleep, uncover the bumps to help keep your skin healthy.
Sports and Activities to Avoid or Be Careful With When You Have Molluscum
To prevent spread of the infection to other people, people with molluscum should not take part in contact sports unless all growths can be covered by clothing or bandages. Wrestling, basketball and football are examples of contact sports.
Activities that use shared gear should be avoided unless all bumps can be covered. Helmets, baseball gloves and balls are examples of shared gear.
Swimming should be avoided unless all growths can be covered by watertight bandages. Personal items (such as towels, goggles and swimsuits) should not be shared. Other items and equipment (such as kick boards and water toys) should be used only when all bumps are covered by clothing or watertight bandages.
Other Ways to Avoid Sharing Your Infection
- Other personal items that may spread the virus should not be shared by people with molluscum. Some examples of personal items are unwashed clothes, hair brushes, wrist watches, and bar soap.
- People with molluscum should not shave or have electrolysis performed on body areas that have growths.
- People who have bumps in the genital area (on or near the penis, vulva, vagina or anus) should avoid sexual contact until they have seen a health care provider.
How long does it take before the lesions or bumps appear?
The period of time averages two months to three months and may range from one week to six months.
How Long are You Infectious?
This is not known for certain, but researchers assume that if the virus is present, it may be transmitted.
What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?
- Lesions are usually present on the thighs, buttocks; groin and lower abdomen of adults, and may occasionally appear on the external genital and anal region.
- Children typically develop lesions on the face, trunk, legs and arms.
- The lesions may begin as small bumps which can develop over a period of several weeks into larger sores/bumps. The lesions can be flesh colored, white or pink. They can cause itching or tenderness in the area, but in most cases the lesions cause few problems. Lesions can last from two weeks to four years -- the average is two years.
- People with AIDS or others with compromised immune systems may develop extensive outbreaks.
How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?
Diagnosis is usually made by the characteristic appearance of the lesion. MCV may be diagnosed by collecting a specimen from the lesion, placing it onto a slide and staining with a Gram stain which shows changes in infected cells. Diagnosis may be made by collecting a specimen from the lesion and viewing it under an electron microscope.
How is molluscum contagiosum treated?
Some treatments exist for molluscum that may prevent spread of the infection to other parts of the body and to other people. A health care provider can remove the growths with surgery or laser therapy. A health care provider may prescribe a cream to apply on the bumps or a medicine to take by mouth.
However, treatment is not usually required because the bumps disappear on their own within six months. However, they may not go away completely for up to four years.
In addition, not all treatments are successful for all people. For example, it is more difficult to treat persons who have a weak immune system. This includes people who are infected with HIV or who are receiving drugs to treat cancer.
Some molluscum treatments that are advertised on the Internet are not effective and may even be harmful! Therefore, always discuss any therapy with a health care provider before using it.
What about complications from molluscum contagiosum?
In people with HIV infection, molluscum contagiosum is often a progressive disease.