Pronounced: mo-lus-kum kon-ta-je-o-sum
Molluscum contagiosum is an infection of the skin. It is caused by the molluscum virus. In children, the most common areas are the face, neck, arms, and hands. In adults, it is considered a sexually transmitted disease. In these cases the genitals and surrounding skin are the areas most commonly affected.
Having skin to skin contact with an infected person is the main risk factor. Other risk factors include:
- Indirect contact with an infected person through a swimming pool or bath or by sharing towels or clothing
- Sexual contact with an infected person
- Weakened immune system (eg, HIV/AIDS ) or broken skin increases risk for getting disease, and causes more severe symptoms
Skin lesions are the main symptom. If you experience a similar skin lesion, do not assume it is due to this condition. These lesions may be caused by other health conditions. It is important that you see your doctor.
Molluscum contagiosum skin lesions usually have the following characteristics:
- Small, dome-shaped bumps with dimpling in center
- Painless, but may be itchy or tender
- At first appear translucent, pearly or flesh-colored and later may turn gray and drain
- White or waxy substance in center of lesion
- Usually multiple lesions in groups
- Face, trunk, arms, and legs are common sites in children
- Genitals, abdomen, and inner thigh are common sites in adults
- Can last from several weeks to several years
Diagnosis is usually made based on the lesions. Sometimes a biopsy will be taken. The sample will be looked at under a microscope. Your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist. This type of doctor focuses on skin conditions.
Left untreated, this disease usually resolves within six months. If untreated in people with HIV, the lesions usually persist and spread indefinitely. Your doctor may recommend removal of the lesions in order to prevent spreading, or to avoid infecting others.
Treatment options include the following:
The lesions can be removed by cutting them off the surface of the skin.
Chemicals are placed directly on the lesions to remove them. Common treatments include:
This method uses cold to freeze the lesions off of the skin. Liquid nitrogen may be used for this treatment.
A retinoid or imiquimod cream may be used separately or in combination.
This disease is very contagious. Take the following measures to reduce your risk of exposure to the virus:
- Avoid contact with an infected person; this includes sharing towels, clothing, baths, and pools
- Avoid sexual contact with an infected person
If you have the disease, reduce the risk of spread by:
- Not touching the lesions
- Not scratching
- Washing your hands promptly if they do come in contact with the lesions
American Academy of Dermatology
American Family Physician
American Social Health Association
Canadian Dermatology Association
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Molluscum Contagiosum. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/public/Publications/pamphlets/MolluscumContagiosum.htm . Accessed September 19, 2005.
Molluscum Contagiosum and Warts. American Family Physician website. Available at: http://www/aafp.org/afp/20030315/1233.html . Accessed September 20, 2005.
Molluscum Contagiosum, Questions & Answers. American Social Health Association website. Available at: http://www.ashastd.org/learn/learn_mc.cfm . Accessed September 19, 2005.
Theos AU, Cummins R, Silverberg NB, Paller AS. Effectiveness of imiquimod cream 5% for treating childhood molluscum contagiosum in a double-blind, randomized pilot trial. Cutis . 2004 Aug;74(2):134-8, 141-2.
US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Molluscum contagiosum. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000826.htm . Accessed September 19, 2005.
Last reviewed January 2009 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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