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Molluscum Contagiosum: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

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Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that causes either single or multiple raised and skin-colored pearl-like bumps (papules) on the skin. The papules have indentations or dimples in their centers. Molluscum contagiosum is a chronic infection and lesions may persist from a few months to a few years. However, most cases resolve in six to nine months.

molluscum contagiosum

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus (molluscum contagiosum virus) that is part of the pox virus family. The virus is contagious (able to be spread from person to person) through direct contact and is more common in children. As children become older, their immune system becomes better at clearing the virus. However, the virus also can be spread by sexual contact and can occur in people with weakened immune systems. The immune system is our body’s own way to fight against infections and diseases. Molluscum contagiosum can spread on a single individual through scratching and rubbing.

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Common locations for the papules are on the faces, trunks and limbs of children. In adults, common locations are the genitals, abdomens, and inner thighs. The condition usually results in papules that:

  • Are generally painless, but can itch.
  • Are small (2 to 5 millimeter diameter). However, people with immunodeficiencies can develop larger lesions.
  • Have a dimple in the center.
  • Are initially firm, dome-shaped, and flesh-colored.
  • Become softer with time.
  • May turn red and drain over time.
  • Have a central core of white, waxy material.

Molluscum contagiosum usually disappears on its own over a period of months to years in people who have normal immune systems. In people who have AIDS or other conditions that affect the immune system, the lesions associated with molluscum contagiosum can be extensive.

How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?

Diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum is based on the distinctive appearance of the lesion. If the diagnosis is in question, a doctor can confirm the diagnosis with a skin biopsy (the removal of a portion of skin from a patient for diagnostic examination). If there is any concern about related health problems, a doctor can check for underlying disorders.

How is molluscum contagiosum treated?

The condition is usually self-limited, so treatment is not always necessary. Individual lesions may be removed by scraping or freezing the lesion. The surgical removal of individual lesions may result in scarring. Medications applied on the skin (topical), such as those used to remove warts, may be helpful in removal of lesions. Some of these medications may be applied in the doctor's office or at home.

How can molluscum contagiosum be prevented?

You can help to prevent this condition by avoiding direct contact with anyone who has skin lesions. Treating underlying eczema in children can help prevent the spread of molluscum contagiosum. The spread of lesions between people can be minimized y not sharing towels or washcloths. Not having sex or having only one sexual partner can help you to avoid molluscum contagiosum that is transmitted through sexual contact. Male and female condoms cannot offer full protection as the virus can be found on areas not covered by the condom.

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