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Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin infection caused by a pox virus which produces small raised bumps on the skin. The virus can be passed on by close skin contact or from contaminated towels, flannels etc. It is not serious and usually clears within 12-18 months without any treatment.

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What does molluscum contagiosum look like?

The spots of molluscum contagiosum are usually skin coloured but can be red/pink, they are dome shaped, firm and they often develop a central dimple which is a characteristic diagnostic feature. They are typically about 2-5 mm across but can be larger. Sometimes areas of dry redness like eczema can develop around the bumps. In most cases fewer than 30 spots develop. They tend to occur in groups or clusters due to local spread from scratching. The most common areas where the spots appear are on the face, chest, armpits, groins and upper thighs.

How did I get molluscum contagiosum?

The virus is generally passed on by skin-to-skin contact. However, infection can also occur by touching objects that have been contaminated by the virus e.g. sharing towels. Once one area of skin is affected the rash can spread to other areas of your skin and this often occurs through scratching. Most adults are resistant (immune) to the virus through childhood exposure but it can readily spread between the children of a family.
In adults molluscum contagiosum can be a sexually transmitted disease affecting the genital area and lower abdomen in which case a full health check at a sexual health clinic is advisable.

How long does molluscum contagiosum last?

Typically, each spot lasts a few weeks or months before it disappears. However, new ones tend to appear as old ones are going, as the virus spreads to other areas of skin. Therefore, crops of spots may appear to come and go for several months. It commonly takes 12-18 months before the last of the spots goes completely. Occasionally, the condition lasts longer than two years – sometimes as long as five years.
If you develop a very large number of mollusca (hundreds) or the mollusca are larger than normal, it could be a marker of an underlying problem with your immune system. This may need specialised assessment.

Can infection with molluscum contagiosum be prevented?

The chance of passing on the molluscum contagiosum virus to others is small. There is no need to keep children with molluscum contagiosum off school, or away from swimming pools etc. There is no need for adults to keep away from gyms or other people.
To reduce the chance of passing it on to others, it is sensible not to share towels, clothes, soft toys, or bathwater if you have molluscum contagiosum.
Try not to scratch the spots as this may increase the risk of spreading the rash to other areas of the skin.

What is the treatment for molluscum contagiosum?

It is usually best not to treat, particularly in children since it is a harmless self-resolving condition and a number of the treatments are painful. Should treatment be advised there are a number options all there is no evidence that any one treatment is better than the others. There are a few topical treatments available such as potassium hydroxide (Molludab). The spots can be frozen with liquid nitrogen at regular intervals until they clear.