What is molluscum contagiosum?
It is an infection of the skin caused by a pox virus.
What does it look like?
The lesions resemble small pimples at first. They are flesh-colored, pink, white, gray, and waxy. They become smooth and doughnut-shaped with a small central sunken area (core). They are most often found on the trunk, arms, legs, or face.
When sexually transmitted, lesions are most often found on the outer area of the genitals, lower abdomen, buttocks, and thighs. The infected areas may become red as the body fights off the virus.
How is it diagnosed?
It may be diagnosed by the appearance of the lesions. Sometimes a skin biopsy is done to confirm the diagnosis.
Who gets molluscum?
Molluscum is most often seen in children, but is also often seen in sexually active young adults, or less often in adults as a non-sexually transmitted disease.
How is it spread?
Molluscum is spread by close physical contact with a person who has it. It may take weeks to months from the time of contact until the infection grows large enough to see. Scratching or other irritation causes the virus to spread from one area of the body to another. Molluscum may be spread from shared towels, pillows, razors and other shared objects; but this is not seen often.
Avoid direct contact with skin lesions.
How long will it last?
Molluscum lesions most often go away on their own. For people with normal immune systems, if not treated, lesions may take many months to years to go away. New lesions can appear because the virus has spread from untreated lesions. People with atopic dermatitis/eczema seem to have more extensive lesions and a longer period until resolution. People with weakened immune systems, such as transplant patients or people with AIDS, have a much harder time controlling the spread of the lesions. The lesions often last longer for people with weaker immune systems.
Should it be treated?
There are different opinions on how to treat molluscum. No treatment is perfect. Treatment will get rid of the lesions, but not all of the virus. Treatment can improve appearance and lessen the risk of spreading molluscum to other areas of the body and spreading it to other people.
How is molluscum treated?
Freezing with liquid nitrogen destroys individual lesions. They can also be electrically burned off, mechanically scraped off, or chemically destroyed with acid treatment. Prescription creams such as tretinoin or antiviral medicine (Aldara®) may be ordered for you and may help.
Are there any problems caused by molluscum?
If scratched, the bumps can become infected with bacteria. This infection may need antibiotics.
If you have questions or concerns, please call the provider who is treating you.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 01/16/2013
Copyright © 01/16/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5776
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