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Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a specific virus. The virus can be spread from:
- Direct skin to skin contact with an infected person
- Shared items, such as towels or wrestling mats
- One part of a person's body to another area
Factors that may increase your risk of getting molluscum contagiosum include:
- Weakened immune system, especially in people with HIV infection
- Poor hygiene
- Overcrowded conditions
- Sexual contact
- Having other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis
Molluscum contagiosum usually affects the face, trunk, arms, and legs of children. The genitals, abdomen, and inner thighs are common sites in adults.
Symptoms may include:
- Small, dome-shaped bumps with dimpling in center
- Itching and tenderness
- Translucent, pearly, or flesh-colored bumps that may turn gray and drain
- White or waxy substance in the center of lesion
- Multiple lesions in groups
Symptoms may last from several weeks to several years.
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Diagnosis is usually made based on the lesion appearance. Sometimes, a biopsy will be taken to rule out other conditions. A biopsy is the removal of a small sample of the area.
Molluscum contagiosum usually goes away on its own within 6 months to 2 years without any treatment. For people with HIV infection, the lesions usually persist and spread indefinitely. Your doctor may recommend the removal of some lesions to prevent the spread of the infection or to avoid infecting others.
Lesion may be removed by one of the following:
- Cryotherapy—freezing of the lesion
- Curettage—cutting out lesion
- Laser surgery—steady or pulsed high intensity light
- Topical therapy—destruction of the lesion with a variety of chemicals
To reduce your chances of getting molluscum contagiosum, avoid any contact with an infected person.
If you are contagious, avoid any personal contact with others, contact sports, or sharing personal items.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Social Health Association
Canadian Dermatology Association
Public Health Agency of Canada
Hanson D. Diven DG. Molluscum contagiosum. Dermatology Online J. 2003;9(2):2. Accessed May 10, 2016.
Molluscum contagiosum. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/molluscum-contagiosum. Accessed May 10, 2016.
Molluscum contagiosum. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 28, 2015. .Accessed May 10, 2016.
Molluscum contagiosum. American Social Health Association website. Available at: http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/molluscum-contagiosum/. Accessed May 10, 2016.
Dohil MA, Lin P, et al. The epidemiology of molluscum contagiosum in children. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;54(1):47-54.
Stulberg DL, Hutchinson AG. Molluscum contagiosum and warts. Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(6):1233-1240.
Theos AU, Cummins R, et al. Effectiveness of imiquimod cream 5% for treating childhood molluscum contagiosum in a double-blind, randomized pilot trial. Cutis. 2004;74(2):134-138,141-142.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 06/2016
- Update Date: 05/22/2014