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Skin and Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that causes either single or multiple raised, pearl-like bumps (papules) on the skin.

Molluscum contagiosum is a chronic infection and lesions may persist from a few months to a few years. However, most cases resolve in six to nine months.

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What Causes Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus of the same name that is part of the pox virus family. The virus is contagious through direct contact and is more common in children. However, the virus also can be spread by sexual contact and can occur in people with compromised immune systems. Molluscum contagiosum can spread on a single individual through scratching and rubbing.

What Are the Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum?

Common locations for molluscum contagiosum papules are on the face, trunk, and limbs of children and on the genitals, abdomens, and inner thighs of adults. The condition usually results in papules that:

  • Are generally painless, but can itch
  • Are small (2 to 5 millimeter diameter)
  • Have a dimple in the center
  • Are initially firm, dome-shaped, and flesh-colored
  • Become softer with time
  • Have a central core of white, waxy material

Molluscum contagiosum usually disappears spontaneously over a period of months to years in people who have normal immune systems. In people who have HIV disease or other conditions that affect the immune system, the lesions associated with molluscum contagiosum can be extensive.

How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum is based on the distinctive appearance of the lesion. If the diagnosis is in question, a doctor can confirm the condition with a skin biopsy. If there is any concern about related health problems, a doctor can check for underlying disorders.

How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Treated?

Molluscum contagiosum is usually self-limited, so treatment is not always necessary. However, individual lesions may be removed by scraping or freezing. Topical medications, such as those used to remove warts, may also be helpful in lesion removal.

Note: The surgical removal of individual lesions may result in scarring.

How Can Molluscum Contagiosum Be Prevented?

To prevent molluscum contagiosum, follow these tips:

  • Avoid direct contact with anyone you think may have the condition
  • Treat underlying eczema in children since it can lead to the condition.
  • Remain sexually abstinent or have a monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected individual. (Male and female condoms cannot offer full protection as the virus can be found on areas not covered by the condom.)

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Norman Levine, MD on July 12, 2012

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