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.
Symptoms of molluscum contagiosum
Molluscum is painless but can be itchy. When the spots appear, they look like 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 1-2 millimetres, but they can be as large as 2 centimetres.
Treatment of molluscum contagiosum
Molluscum usually heal within months without any treatment, although people with impaired immune systems can have the spots for several years. Molluscum 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. While no treatment is usually needed, your doctor might suggest treatment to improve the way the spots look, to prevent spread, and to reduce the risk of scarring. Treatment can involve irritating the spots with tape or solutions to cause an immune response, applying creams or using cryotherapy to freeze them.
Prevention of molluscum contagiosum
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 don’t 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: June 2019