What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum in children: Overview

Molluscum contagiosum (say "moh-LUS-kum kun-tay-jee-OH-sum") is a skin infection caused by a virus. It causes small pearly or flesh-colored bumps. The bumps may itch. It can also cause a rash. The virus spreads easily but is usually not harmful. However, the infection can be worse in people with a weak immune system.

Molluscum contagiosum is most common in young children. But it can also happen in teens and adults.

Without treatment, the infection usually goes away within 6 to 18 months. In some cases, it may take several years for it to go away. You may want treatment for your child if the bumps bother your child or you want to keep them from spreading. Treatments include removing the bumps or freezing or putting medicine on them. Treatment depends on where the bumps are.

Children who have molluscum contagiosum may attend school, day care, and sports as long as the bumps are completely covered by clothing or bandages.

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection of the skin that causes small pearly or flesh-colored bumps. The center of the bump is often indented.

Molluscum contagiosum is most common in young children. The bumps can appear anywhere on the body that the virus contacts the skin, except for the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. In sexually active teens and adults, the bumps are usually located in the genital area. The bumps are contagious but not harmful. In people who have an impaired immune system, such as HIV infection, the symptoms are more severe.

In healthy people, treatment often isn't needed, because the infection usually clears up within 6 to 18 months. In some cases, it may take several years for the bumps to go away. Treatment options include scraping off the bumps (curettage), applying medicine directly to the bumps (topical medicine), and freezing the bumps (cryotherapy).

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum causes small pearly or flesh-colored bumps that don't cause pain. The bumps are round with a dimple in the center. They may itch, become inflamed, and turn reddish as your body fights the virus.

How is molluscum contagiosum treated?

In most cases, people with molluscum contagiosum can choose not to be treated. The infection usually goes away within 6 to 18 months. When the bumps last a long time, you may choose to be treated. Doctors usually recommend treatment for any bumps in the genital area to prevent spread to any sexual partners.

How can you prevent spreading molluscum contagiosum?

To prevent molluscum contagiosum from spreading:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Try not to touch, scratch, or pick at the bumps.
  • Cover the bumps with a bandage, medical tape, or clothing when around other people.
  • Don't share towels or washcloths.
  • Don't shave the area where you have bumps.
  • If the bumps are in your genital area, avoid sexual contact.

How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?

To diagnose molluscum contagiosum, your doctor will do a physical exam and may take a sample of the bumps for testing. If you have bumps in your genital area, your doctor may check for other sexually transmitted infections, such as genital herpes.

How can you care for your child who has molluscum contagiosum?

  • Teach your child not to share personal items like clothing or sports gear. This includes towels, washcloths, helmets, and goggles.
  • Keep the bumps covered with a bandage, medical tape, or clothing when your child is around people. Have your child use waterproof bandages when swimming or playing sports.
  • Teach your child to avoid spreading the bumps to other parts of the body. For example, teens should avoid shaving near the bumps. And don't scratch or try to remove the bumps.
  • Sexually active teens should not have sex if they have bumps in their genital area. Having treatment can help avoid spreading them to any sexual partners.
  • If your child's doctor prescribes medicine, use it exactly as directed.

How does molluscum contagiosum spread?

The molluscum contagiosum virus commonly spreads through skin-to-skin contact. This includes sexual contact or touching the bumps and then touching the skin. Touching an object that has the virus on it, such as a towel, also can spread the infection.

The virus can spread from one part of the body to another. Or it can spread to other people, such as among children at day care or school. The infection is contagious until the bumps are gone.

The time from exposure to the virus until the bumps appear usually is 2 to 7 weeks. But in some cases it can take up to 6 months.

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection that causes small pearly or flesh-colored bumps. The center of the bump is often indented. The infection is caused by a virus. The virus is easily spread but is not harmful.

This infection is most common in children. But teens and adults can also get it, often from taking part in sports like wrestling and gymnastics or from sexual contact. It can occur in healthy people. But when it occurs in people with a weak immune system, the symptoms may be worse.

Molluscum contagiosum: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have signs of infection such as:
    • Pain, warmth, or swelling in the skin.
    • Redness near the bumps.
    • A fever.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.