What is molluscum contagiosum?
Molluscum contagiosum is a common, generally harmless, 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, although 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 core and often a dimple in the centre. The spots are usually very small, about 3 to 6 mm, but they can be as large as 30 mm.
Molluscum is painless but can be itchy, especially if the person also has eczema.
How is molluscum contagiosum treated?
Molluscum contagiosum usually heals in about 6 to 18 months without any treatment, although people with immune system problems can have the spots for several years. The spots usually heal without leaving a scar, although aggressive treatment and scratching can leave a mark similar to a chickenpox scar.
It is important to see your doctor for correct diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum. Usually no treatment is usually, but your doctor might suggest treatment to improve the way the spots look, to prevent spread, and to reduce the risk of scarring.
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
If the person has irritated skin, that must be treated before the molluscum.
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.
Molluscum can also be sexually transmitted. For adults with molluscum on the genital area, transmission to sexual partners can be minimised by using condoms and dental dams, although these do not completely stop it spreading.
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: May 2021