- Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection.
- It appears as small raised nodules on the skin.
- Infection can be spread by skin contact.
- It is usually a mild infection that often affects children.
- However, people with HIV/Aids are vulnerable to severe infection.
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection, which appears as raised, painless nodules (also called lesions) on the skin. It infects only the outer skin layers.
Normally it is a minor problem common among children, but in people with weakened immune systems it can rapidly spread to become severe and unsightly.
What causes molluscum contagiosum?
Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus in the pox family. The virus enters the body through the skin or hair follicles, and forms lesions. It is contagious and easily spread through skin contact, or through sexual contact if lesions are on the genitals. It is possible to contract it by touching contaminated objects such as towels.
What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?
The nodules are often found on the face, neck, arms, hands, groin and armpits, but can appear anywhere except the palms and soles of the feet. They are often found where skin rubs against skin, such in the groin or the bend of the arm. In adults, common locations are genitals, abdomen and inner thigh.
The lesion first appears as a small, painless pimple that may become a raised nodule, 2 - 5 millimeters big, with a whitish, soft core. The lesions are pearly, pink or flesh-coloured, often with a dimple in the center. Scratching can cause them to spread in lines or clusters.
The lesions can usually be identified by the eye. However, the diagnosis may be confirmed by means of a microscopic examination of a sample from a lesion.
While the lesions usually go away on their own, treatment may be necessary if a nodule is in an uncomfortable place, or for cosmetic reasons. There may also be bleeding, itching and discomfort. In general, treatment is advised to prevent the infection spreading to other parts of the skin or to other people.
Treatment involves the removal of individual nodules by various means, including:
- Surgical excision or scraping
- Pricking each nodule with a toothpick dipped in phenol or Betadine
- Freezing with liquid nitrogen
- Medications, such as wart-removal medication
- Laser therapy
- Anti-viral gel
Some of these methods may result in scarring, blistering or temporary skin discoloration. If there are many lesions, several treatment sessions may be necessary.
Usually, the infection goes away on its own after a few months or years. There should be no scarring, unless the lesions have been badly scratched.
If the immune system is compromised, as with HIV/AIDS, the condition may persist and worsen.
In some people, the lesions may persist, spread or recur. People with suppressed immune systems, particularly, are at risk of infection. They tend to develop more, larger lesions, which heal slower.
People with molluscum contagiosum may also develop secondary bacterial skin infections.
When to call your doctor
Your doctor should examine any lesions that appear to be molluscum contagiosum. You should also consult your doctor if the lesions spread widely, last a particularly long time, or are accompanied by any other symptoms.
You can avoid infection by avoiding skin contact with lesions on someone else's skin. Be cautious about sharing towels or other items that touch the skin.
While safe sex practices, such as condom use, will help to avoid contracting the virus from lesions in the genital area, it will not protect you from skin contact with other parts of your partner's body.
If you have molluscum lesions already, try to avoid:
- Scratching or picking at the nodules. Cover them with a bandage.
- Contact sports, public swimming pools or shared baths
- Sharing towels or clothing
- Shaving the lesioned area
- Sexual activity that would involve lesioned areas of skin touching your partner's skin