Molluscum Contagiosum

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 26, 2022
3 min read

Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral skin infection. It most often affects children, but adults with weakened immune systems can get it, too.

Molluscum contagiosum causes either single or multiple raised, pearl-like bumps (papules) on the skin. It’s a chronic infection, so the bumps may last for a few months or a few years. But most cases get better in 6 to 9 months.

Molluscum contagiosum papules commonly appear on the face, trunk, and limbs of children and on the genitals, abdomen, and inner thighs of adults. The condition usually causes bumps that:

  • Are generally painless but can itch
  • Are small (2 to 5 millimeters in diameter)
  • Have a dimple in the center
  • Are firm, dome-shaped, and flesh-colored at first
  • Become softer with time
  • May turn red and drain over time
  • Have a central core of white, waxy material

Molluscum contagiosum usually disappears on its own over a period of months to years if you have a healthy immune system. If you have AIDS or other conditions that affect the immune system, molluscum contagiosum can lead to widespread, chronic sores.

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus. It’s part of the pox virus family. You can spread molluscum contagiosum:

  • Through direct contact with an infected person
  • By having sexual contact with an infected person
  • By rubbing or scratching the bumps

A diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum is based on the way the papule looks. If your doctor isn’t sure, they can confirm the diagnosis with a skin biopsy. They’ll remove a piece of skin to look at more closely. If they’re worried you might have other health problems, they can check for them, too.

Because molluscum contagiosum can go away on its own, you may not need treatment. But the doctor can remove individual bumps by scraping or freezing them. This procedure could leave a scar.

Topical medications (medications you put on your skin), like those used to remove warts, can also help remove the papules.

To prevent molluscum contagiosum, follow these tips:

  • Avoid direct skin-to-skin contact with anyone who may have the condition.
  • Treat eczema in children.
  • Either don’t have sex or have a monogamous sexual relationship with someone who isn’t infected. (Male and female condoms don’t offer full protection. The virus can get to areas the condom doesn’t cover.)