Molluscum contagiosum: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Molluscum contagiosum is a common and contagious viral skin infection. It causes raised, pearl-like nodules or papules on the skin.

These papules are called molluscum bodies, Mollusca, or condyloma subcutaneum. The condition is known as molluscipoxvirus.

Molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV) mostly affects children under the age of 15 years.

The papules are generally painless, and they do not itch. They can affect any area of skin, but especially the trunk of the body, arms, and legs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they mostly heal without intervention within 6 to 12 months, and they do not leave scars. In some cases, however, it may take up to 4 years to resolve.

No one knows how many people develop molluscum contagiosum because many people do not seek medical advice.

Treatment can stop MCV from spreading, but it is not generally necessary because the condition normally improves without intervention.

Pictures

MCV papules

Molluscum bumps close-up<!--mce:protected %0A--><!--mce:protected %0A--><em>Image credit: Bray, D. 13 January 2011</em>
Image credit: Bray, D., 2011

Molluscum on the inner elbow

Molluscum of inner elbow<!--mce:protected %0A--><!--mce:protected %0A--><em>Image credit: Salvadorjo~commonswiki</em>
Image credit: Van Herk, E., 2005

Molluscum on child’s torso

MCV on a child's torso <!--mce:protected %0A--><!--mce:protected %0A--><em>Image credit: Eug, 2012</em>
Image credit: Eug, 2012

Symptoms

[moluscum contagiosum]
The MCV virus causes bumps on the skin.

For most people, symptoms only appear on the skin. After initial infection, it can take from 7 days to 6 months for symptoms to emerge.

The American Academy of Dermatology notes that it often takes 7 weeks for the bumps to appear.

The papules appear as small, firm, flesh-colored, dome-shaped, pearly, wart-like spots on the skin.

They are typically 1 to 5 millimeters (mm) in diameter with a dimpled center. These Mollusca tend to develop on any part of the skin that is not usually covered, such as the arms, face, and hands. They can also occur on the chest and stomach.

Sexually transmitted Mollusca generally appear on the genitalia, groin, lower abdomen, and inner thighs. They usually develop in small clusters and remain on the top layer of skin, but they can spread to other parts of the body.

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Some Mollusca have a small white dot with pus, and they release a thick, white fluid when they burst. The dimpled part may bleed.

Most people will have up to 20 papules, but some may have over 100. If there are many, or if they are more than 5 mm across, medical advice should be sought because this may mean there is a problem with the immune system.

After about 6 to 12 weeks, the Mollusca will crust over and then heal. A tiny patch of lighter skin or a pitted mark may remain, but there will not usually be any scars.

For a year or more, new Mollusca may continue to form in other parts of the body as old ones crust over and heal. Once they disappear completely, they are highly unlikely to come back.

In rare cases, the Mollusca may persist for years.

Causes

MCV can spread through close, direct contact with an infected person, normally through skin-to-skin contact, for instance, via sexual activity. It can also spread to different parts of the body, and to other people if they touch contaminated objects, such as towels.

Most people are resistant to the virus, and they are unlikely to become infected unless their immune system is compromised.

The virus is contagious until the bumps are gone.

Among children, MCV is common, but because it is benign and self-limiting, there is no need to miss days of school.

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