Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a condition that causes small bumps to appear on the skin as a result of an infection. The root cause of a molluscum contagiosum is a virus that can be very contagious but doesn't cause any real harm. The skin bumps are typically clear, with an indented head.

The virus spreads easily and direct skin contact is enough for transmission. Touching the bumps and then the skin or another person is one way to pass it, as well as sexual contact. The virus also persists on objects like towels and other people can be infected by touching them. It is also possible to transmit the infection from one area of the body to another, by touch. It remains contagious as long as there are still bumps on the skin and can easily spread in the right environment, such as between kids at school. The virus normally needs between 2 and 7 weeks to start forming the bumps. However, in some cases the time between contagion and the first symptoms can be as long as half a year.

In order to reduce the risk of contagion, you should be careful not to touch the bumps and to cover them with bandage or tape to prevent any accidents. Do not have sex if the bumps are near the genitals and avoid shaving for a while if they are located on your face. Try not to share items like towels or clothes with others.

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum has only one symptom: the small bumps that emerge on the skin. These bumps caused by the infection can be the same color as the skin, sometimes white or pink. Sometimes they are shiny, resembling a pearl. Inside, there is a waxy white matter, where the actual virus is located.

Initially, the bumps (also known as molluscum) are no larger than a pen head. Over the course of several weeks, the wart will grow in size until it becomes about as big as a pea. Usually, every molluscum has a tiny indentation on top, which is characteristic for this infection.

The bumps can be located anywhere on the body. On kids, they appear most often on the face, chest, groin, genital area, arms, armpits or the legs. They can be found isolated or in larger groups. Sometimes they can be arranged in clusters or rows.

Teens and adults who become infected after sexual contact usually have bumps on their thighs and the genital area. Less often, the mollusca emerge near the mouth or close to the eyes. Normally, the bumps are painless. However, if disturbed or scratched, they can start to swell, itch, turn red and even become infected or sore. Their number is variable but usual infections consist of a number between 1 and 20 bumps.

Treatment options

Molluscum contagiosum is often untreated and will eventually go away and heal on its own. The process is not quick and around 2-3 months are needed until every molluscum contagiosum disappears completely. However, the molluscum contagiosum tends to be persistent and between 6 months and 4 years might be needed for full recovery. This is because new bumps appear and replace the healed ones.

In some cases, a doctor can speed up the healing process of molluscum contagiosum using several treatment options. The core of the bumps can be extracted with a scalpel or tweezers, which stops the bump from being contagious. It is also possible to eliminate the growths completely by surgically cutting them, a procedure known as curettage. Cryotherapy, or freezing them, is another removal option. Medicinal cream or chemical agents that can be applied include cantharidin, salicylic acid and tretinoin. Cimetidine is an effective oral treatment.

While these therapies for molluscum contagiosum are effective and can speed up healing, doctors rarely decide to use them, especially on kids. This is because they can have serious side effects, like scars or changes in skin color, as well as pain and burns. The treatment is most effective when started as soon as possible, while the number of bumps is low. Most of the time, people request the growths to be removed if they itch or are located in embarrassing places. Location of the molluscum contagiosum is the most important factor in choosing a cure.