Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that causes either single or multiple raised, pearl-like bumps (papules) on the skin. It is a chronic infection, so lesions may persist from a few months to a few years. However, most cases resolve in six to nine months.
Causes of Molluscum Contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus (the molluscum contagiosum virus) 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 the 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
- May turn red and drain over 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 AIDS or other conditions that affect the immune system, the lesions associated with molluscum contagiosum can be extensive and especially chronic.
Diagnosing Molluscum Contagiosum
Diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum is based on the distinctive appearance of the lesion. If the diagnosis is in question, a doctor can confirm the diagnosis with a skin biopsy -- the removal of a portion of skin for closer examination. If there is any concern about related health problems, a doctor can check for underlying disorders.
Treatment for Molluscum Contagiosum
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.
Prevention of Molluscum Contagiosum
To prevent molluscum contagiosum, follow these tips:
- Avoid direct contact skin-to-skin with anyone who may have the condition.
- Treat underlying eczema in children.
- 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.)