Molluscum (muh-luhs-kum) contagiosum (kən-tā-jē-ō-səm) is a common skin disease. It is caused by a virus. This virus easily spreads from person to person.
People can get molluscum by sharing towels and clothing. Wrestlers and gymnasts may get it from touching infected mats. Skin-to-skin contact also spreads the virus.
Often the only sign of molluscum is pink or flesh-colored bumps on the skin. These bumps can appear anywhere on the skin.
Scratching or picking at these bumps can spread the virus from one part of your body to another.
Most people get about 10 to 20 bumps on their skin. If a person has a weakened immune system, many bumps often appear. People who have AIDS can have 100 or more bumps.
Whenever you can see the bumps on the skin, molluscum contagiosum is contagious.
Bumps on the skin can be the only sign that a person has molluscum contagiosum. These bumps often appear about 7 weeks after being exposed to the virus that causes molluscum. Sometimes, the bumps do not appear for many months.
When the bumps appear on the skin, they often:
In adults, the bumps often appear on the face, neck, armpits, arms, and hands. Other common places for bumps to appear are the genitals, abdomen, and inner thighs. Adults often get molluscum contagiosum through sexual contact.
If a person has a disease that weakens the immune system, such as AIDS, the bumps can grow very large. A person may have 100 or more bumps on the face alone.
Who gets molluscum contagiosum?
This skin disease is most often seen in children. People who live in a tropical climate also are more likely to get molluscum. The virus thrives in a warm, humid place. Having atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, also increases the risk of getting molluscum contagiosum.
When a person has a weak immune system due to a medical condition such as AIDS or treatment for cancer, the person can get a serious case of molluscum contagiosum.
What causes molluscum contagiosum?
A virus causes molluscum. There are 2 ways to get this virus:
Once infected with the virus, a person can spread the virus to other parts the body. Scratching or picking at bumps on the skin and then touching skin that does not have bumps can spread the virus and cause new bumps. Your dermatologist may call this self-re-infection.
How do dermatologists diagnose molluscum contagiosum?
A dermatologist often can diagnose molluscum contagiosum by looking at the skin. Your dermatologist may refer to the bumps on the skin as mollusca.
Sometimes the mollusca look like another skin condition. They can look like warts, chickenpox, and even skin cancer. If this happens, your dermatologist will scrape off a bit of infected skin. The infected skin will be examined under a microscope.
How do dermatologists treat molluscum contagiosum?
Dermatologists often recommend treatment for molluscum contagiosum. Treatment helps to prevent the virus from:
Treatment, however, may not be best for a young child. Treatment can have unwanted side effects for a young child. And the bumps often go away without treatment.
Although the bumps often go away without treatment, most people should be treated. And people who have a weakened immune system should definitely get treatment. The bumps will not go away without treatment if a person has a weakened immune system.
There are many treatment options. The treatment your dermatologist prescribes will depend on your age, health, where the bumps appear on your body, and other considerations.
Treatments that a dermatologist can perform in the office to treat molluscum contagiosum include:
Medicines that your dermatologist may prescribe for you to use at home include:
While treating the bumps, it is normal for new bumps to appear as others fade.
Molluscum contagiosum remains contagious until all of the bumps go away. If a person with a healthy immune system opts not to treat the bumps, the bumps will eventually go away on their own without leaving a scar. After treatment, a person may get new bumps for as long as 6 months. Most people have complete clearing in 2 to 4 months.
If a person has AIDS or another disease that weakens the immune system, the bumps will not go away without treatment — and the bumps can be a challenge to treat. Dermatologists often combine treatments to offer these patients some clearing. Complete clearing may not be possible.
If you think you have molluscum contagiosum, make an appointment to see a dermatologist. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes what looks like molluscum contagiosum can be warts or even skin cancer.
Treatment for molluscum contagiosum helps to prevent this disease from spreading.
Take action so that you do not spread the disease. It is possible to spread this disease to other parts of your body and to other people. When bumps are visible, you can spread molluscum contagiosum. You can prevent spreading this disease by: