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Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin infection caused by a virus that spreads easily between people. You can catch this virus through direct skin-to-skin contact or by touching an infected object.
While molluscum is usually harmless, it does cause bumps to appear on the skin. These growths can appear several weeks or even a few months after exposure to the virus.
WHAT DOES MOLLUSCUM LOOK LIKE?
Molluscum growths on the skin often:
- First appear as small, firm, dome-shaped
- Have a smooth, waxy or pearly
- Are flesh-colored or pink.
- Have a pit in the center, which may be filled with a thick white substance that has a cheesy or waxy
- Are painless, although they may
- Turn red as the patient’s immune system fights the
Growths may appear anywhere on the body, including the face, neck, trunk, limbs and armpits, as well as the genital area, lower abdomen and inner thighs. In people with weakened immune systems, the growths may be very large in size and number, especially on the face.
WHO GETS MOLLUSCUM?
Anyone exposed to the virus can develop molluscum contagiosum. The condition is most commonly seen in children, who can get it from skin-to-skin contact with other children who have the virus, or by touching toys, play mats, clothing or other objects that have been exposed to the virus. It is not clear if molluscum can spread in swimming pools.
However, activities related to swimming, such as sharing a pool towel, may spread the virus.
Molluscum can also occur in adults, most often through contact with a towel, gym or sports equipment, or clothing that previously touched a growth on someone’s skin. For example, those who participate in a close-contact sport, such as wrestling, are at a higher risk for molluscum. Additionally, adults may develop molluscum from sexual contact with an infected person.
Living in a tropical (warm and humid) area increases your risk for developing molluscum. You are also at a higher risk if you have eczema or a disease that weakens your immune system, such as HIV.
HOW DOES A BOARD-CERTIFIED DERMATOLOGIST DIAGNOSE MOLLUSCUM?
If you have growths on your skin, a board-certified dermatologist can do a visual examination to determine if they are caused by molluscum contagiosum. Your dermatologist also may perform a skin biopsy, which involves removing all or part of a growth for examination under a microscope.
If you have concerns about any underlying health conditions that may be causing your molluscum, talk with your dermatologist.
HOW DOES A BOARD-CERTIFIED DERMATOLOGIST TREAT MOLLUSCUM?
Molluscum contagiosum often goes away on its own. Research has shown that in most cases involving children, molluscum clears up in 12 to 18 months without treatment.
Treatment can be beneficial, however, as it can help prevent the spread of the disease to others. Molluscum is generally easier to control if treatment starts early, when the first bumps appear. A board-certified dermatologist can help determine whether treatment is appropriate for you.
Treatments provided in the dermatologist’s office include:
- Topical (applied to the skin) medicine: The dermatologist applies a solution like cantharidin to destroy the bumps. Blistering may
- Cryosurgery: The dermatologist freezes the bumps with liquid nitrogen. This treatment can be helpful for older individuals, or those whose bumps are limited to one area or located in sensitive
- Curettage: The dermatologist scrapes the growths from the skin with an instrument called a
- Laser therapy: The dermatologist uses a laser to destroy the bumps. If you have many growths, you may need treatment every three to six weeks until the growths
Your dermatologist also may prescribe a topical retinoid or antiviral medicine for you to apply to your skin at home. However, these treatments may cause skin irritation.
During treatment, some growths may appear as others are fading. This is normal. Continue to see your dermatologist until all growths are gone.
Do not purchase molluscum contagiosum treatments online. These can be ineffective or even harmful. See a board- certified dermatologist for the proper diagnosis and treatment of molluscum.
HOW CAN I PREVENT MOLLUSCUM FROM SPREADING?
If you rub or scratch your growths, you can easily spread molluscum contagiosum to objects or other parts of your body by touching them.
To prevent the virus from spreading:
- Avoid picking and scratching your bumps. Covering the bumps with clothing or a loose bandage may
- If you participate in a close-contact sport, do not participate until the virus clears. Clean all infected sports
- Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels, washcloths or
- Do not shave skin that has molluscum
- Avoid sexual
- Be careful to minimize rubbing when applying moisturizer or topical medication to the molluscum
Molluscum contagiosum near the eye
WILL MOLLUSCUM CONTAGIOSUM COME BACK?
Molluscum should not recur once all of the lesions are gone; however, it is possible for new bumps to appear during treatment.
A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment
of skin, hair and nail conditions. To learn more about molluscum contagiosum or find a board-certified dermatologist
in your area, visit aad.org/molluscum or call toll-free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
American Academy of Dermatology
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AAD Public Information Center: 888.462.DERM (3376) AAD Member Resource Center: 866.503.SKIN (7546) Outside the United States: 847.240.1280