What Is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection that is caused by a virus. The virus, called the molluscum virus, produces benign raised lesions, or bumps, on the upper layers of your skin.

The small bumps usually are painless. They disappear on their own and rarely leave scars when left untreated.  The length of time the virus lasts varies for each person, but the bumps can last from two months up to four years.

Is Molluscum Contagiosum contagious?

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Molluscum Contagiosum

This condition is highly contagious and is spread by direct contact with the lesion of an infected person or by contact with a contaminated object such as towels or piece of clothing. Children can contract the virus during normal play with other children.

Teens and adults are more likely to become infected through sexual contact. You can also become infected during contact sports such as wrestling or rugby that involve bare skin interactions.

The molluscum virus can survive on surfaces that have been touched by the skin of an infected person. Therefore, it’s possible to contract the virus by handling towels, clothing, toys, or other items that have been contaminated.

Molluscum contagiosum also can be transferred by shared sports equipment where an athlete’s bare skin comes in contact with the object. The virus can be left and passed to the next person on items such as boxing gloves, wrestling mats, and helmets.

If you have this condition, you can spread the infection throughout your body. You can transfer the virus from one part of your body to another by touching, scratching, or shaving a bump and then touching another part of your body.

Can I catch Molluscum Contagiosum?

You are more likely to become infected than others if you are in one of the groups below:

* children between the ages of 1 and 10

* residents of tropical climates

* individuals with weakened immune systems caused by factors such as HIV, organ transplants, or cancer treatments

*patients who have atopic dermatitis, a common form of eczema that causes scaly and itchy rashes

*athletes who participate in contact sports such as wrestling or rugby, in which bare skin-to-skin contact is common

Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum

If you or your child comes in contact with the molluscum virus, you may not see symptoms of infection for up to six months. The average incubation period is between two and seven weeks.

You may notice the appearance of a small group of painless lesions. These bumps may appear alone or in a patch of as many as 20.   They usually are:

  • very small, shiny, and smooth in appearance
  • flesh-coloured, white, or pink
  • firm and dome-shaped with a dent or dimple in the middle
  • filled with a central core of waxy material
  • between 2 mm (the size of the head of a pin) and 5 mm (the size of a rubber on the top of a pencil) in diameter
  • found anywhere except on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet
  • usually present on the face, abdomen, torso, arms, and legs
  • located on the inner thigh, genitals, or abdomen in adults

However, if you have a weakened immune system, you may have symptoms that are more significant. Lesions may be as large as 15 mm in diameter, which is about the size of a 5p coin. The bumps occur more often on the face.

Removing the bumps by scratching, or having them removed by a physician using cryotherapy (freezing) or curettage (scraping) techniques can result in pain, irritation, or permanent scarring.

Diagnosis of Molluscum Contagiosum

Because the skin bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum have a distinct appearance, your GP can often diagnose the infection by merely looking at the affected area. It is important to rule out skin cancer, chickenpox or warts.

Once the lesions fade, the molluscum virus is no longer present in your body. When this happens, you can’t spread the virus to others or to other parts of your body. You will see more bumps only if you become infected again. Unlike with chickenpox, if you have had molluscum contagiosum once, you are not protected against being reinfected.

While it is usually unnecessary to treat molluscum contagiosum, some people find the facial bumps a cosmetic inconvenience.

Treatment of Molluscum Contagiosum

In most cases, if you have a normal immune system, it will not be necessary to treat the lesions caused by molluscum contagiosum. The bumps will fade away without intervention.

We do not treat Molluscum Contagiosum at our Qutis and MBNS Clinics. We do advise that you see your GP though to confirm diagnosis.

How to Prevent the Spread of Molluscum Contagiosum

The best way to avoid getting molluscum contagiosum is to avoid touching the skin of another person who has the infection. In addition, these suggestions can help you prevent the spread of the infection:

  • Practice effective hand washing with warm water and soap.
  • Instruct children in proper hand-washing techniques since they are more likely to use touch in play and interaction with others.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, clothing, hair brushes, or bar soaps.
  • Avoid using shared sports gear that may have come in direct contact with an athlete’s bare skin.
  • Avoid picking at or touching areas of your own skin where the bumps exist.
  • Keep the bumps clean and covered to prevent yourself or others from touching them and spreading the virus.