Definition

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.

Causes

Contact with the virus causes this skin infection. This can occur with skin to skin contact.

Risk Factors

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

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

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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

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.

Treatment

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:

Surgical Removal

The lesions can be removed by cutting them off the surface of the skin.

Chemical Treatment

Chemicals are placed directly on the lesions to remove them. Common treatments include:

Cryotherapy

This method uses cold to freeze the lesions off of the skin. Liquid nitrogen may be used for this treatment.

Medical Treatment

A retinoid or imiquimod cream may be used separately or in combination.

Prevention

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