Molluscum contagiosum

Specialty of Dermatology

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a viral skin infection that causes papules or nodules with a pearly appearance on the skin. It can affect both children and adults and is contagious, being spread in a number of ways. People with weakened immune systems, such as those affected by HIV, have a higher risk of acquiring this virus.

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

This disease first manifests as a small painless papule with a dimple in the centre, usually measuring between two and five millimetres, but are sometimes larger. They may itch and some patients experience red, dry and sometimes cracked skin around them. They most commonly appear in the armpit, behind the knee or around the groin.

The spots are usually pink or red in colour and may occasionally have a tiny white or yellow head in the middle, which, if ruptured, releases a highly infectious yellow-white fluid. This should be avoided if possible, as it increased the chance of the spots spreading to other parts of the body.

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

MC is caused by infection with the molluscum contagiosum virus. This is highly contagious and can be caught by:

  • Physical contact with the skin of another infected individual
  • Touching an object contaminated with the virus – towels, flannels, clothes, and toys that a patient has been in contact with can all pass the virus on to others
  • Sexual contact, including intimate physical contact as well as full intercourse. Due to this, it is often confused with herpes or genital warts.

Can molluscum contagiosum be prevented?

To prevent this infection, you should avoid coming into physical contact with infected individuals, particularly their spots, as well as not sharing personal items such as razors, makeup or towels. Keep areas of infected skin covered with clothing or a waterproof bandage when swimming. One should be aware of the risk of sexual transmission. If you are infected with molluscum contagiosum, you should inform the people you live with and any romantic partners about your condition and avoid passing the condition on if possible.

Treatment of molluscum contagiosum

Treatment isn’t usually necessary as the virus only causes a few minor symptoms (spots and sometimes itching) and tends to clear up within 6-18 months. As long as the patient leaves the spots alone and doesn’t scratch or burst them, they are unlikely to leave scars.

Treatment may sometimes be recommended if the spots are unsightly and affecting the patient’s quality of life or if the patient has a weakened immune system. Treatment can take the form of:

  • Topical creams
  • Cryotherapy (freezing the spots)
  • Diathermy (using heat to destroy the spots)
  • Curettage (scraping the infected cells away)
  • Laser treatment
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