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Molluscum contagiosum

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Molluscum contagiosum is a skin condition that is common in children but can occur at any age.
  • It is caused by a virus that gives you pimple-like spots with a dimple in the middle.
  • It can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, or when you bathe or share a towel with someone who has the infection.
  • Molluscum contagiosum is usually benign, and your body will usually clear the infection in a few months without treatment, but you can also get the spots treated by a doctor.

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a common, generally harmless (benign), skin infection caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV). The virus causes small, raised spots that can be spread by skin-to-skin contact. It is more common in children, but it can affect people of any age.

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

When the spots appear, they look like white pimples. Over time, they become round, pink or pearl-coloured lumps with a hard middle and often a dip in the centre. The spots are usually very small, about 3 to 6mm, but they can be as large as 30mm.

Molluscum, is painless but can be itchy, especially if you also have eczema.

Picture of molluscum contagiosum.
Molluscum contagiosum spots first look like white pimples, then turn pink and round or pearl-coloured lumps with a hard middle and often a dip in the centre.

When should I see my doctor?

It is important to see your doctor to get a diagnosis of any skin condition. Molluscum contagiosum usually doesn’t need treatment. Your doctor might suggest treatment if they are worried about the virus spreading, or to reduce the risk of scarring.

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How is molluscum contagiosum treated?

Molluscum contagiosum usually heals in about 6 to 9 months without any treatment. Some people, for example if you have problems with your immune system, can have spots for years.

Treatment may involve:

  • freezing the spots off with liquid nitrogen
  • squeezing them gently and pricking with a needle
  • surgically scraping them off
  • using a cream or lotion
  • using wart paint

The spots usually heal without leaving a scar, but some treatments and scratching can leave marks.

If the person has a skin condition such as eczema, it’s best to treat the condition before treating molluscum contagiosum.

Can molluscum contagiosum be prevented?

Molluscum contagiosum can be spread by touching the spots, although it may be months before spots appear after infection. Molluscum can also be spread to different parts of the body or to other people in bath or pool water, on bath toys, towels, face cloths or clothing.

You can help stop molluscum spreading by:

  • showering rather than bathing
  • washing and drying children's bath toys after use
  • not sharing towels, face washers or clothing
  • drying the affected area last after showering
  • washing hands thoroughly after touching the spots

People with molluscum can attend school and work because clothing usually covers the affected areas. If necessary, cover any exposed spots with a skin tape, dressing, or adhesive strip.

What are the complications of molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum can also be sexually transmitted. For adults with molluscum on the genital area, you can reduce the chance of spread to sexual partners by using condoms and dental dams.

If you or your recent sexual partners become infected with molluscum, it’s a good idea to get tested for other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).

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Last reviewed: September 2023

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