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Molluscum Contagiosum

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Updated May 21, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin disease that most often affects young children worldwide, and adults who have weakened immune systems. It is transmitted by direct skin contact, so among adults, it also can be transmitted during sexual contact. It is caused by a type of poxvirus.

What Are the Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum?

Infection with the molluscum contagiosum virus causes raised fluid-filled bumps on the skin. These bumps range from the size of a pinhead to the size of a pencil eraser, and usually have a small dimple or pit in the middle. Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, may get larger bumps, up to the size of a dime, or groups of atypical bumps. In most people, the bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum are painless, but they can become itchy, irritated, swollen, or sore. If the bumps become uncomfortable, it is important to avoid scratching them. Scratching can cause the virus to spread, or leave your skin susceptible to secondary infections with other bacteria.

How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Diagnosed?

Any and all strange bumps on the skin should be examined by a healthcare provider, especially if they appear in the genital area. Your physician should be able to diagnose the virus based on a physical examination. Sometimes a biopsy is necessary.

How is Molluscum Contagiosum Treated?

Molluscum contagiosum should only be treated by a healthcare professional. Treatments advocated on the Internet may actually cause more harm than good. At your doctor's office, the bumps can be frozen off, removed with a lasers, treated with creams, or drained using special techniques, but in most cases they will heal on their own in 6-12 months if left untreated.

Once the bumps are gone, the infection is considered to be cured. Molluscum contagiosum does not have a dormant phase like herpes or HPV.

How is Molluscum Contagiosum Spread?

Molluscum contagiosum is spread by skin-to-skin contact, and also by contact with objects, such as clothing or towels, that have been contaminated by the virus. If you have been infected with the virus, you should cover all bumps on skin with waterproof bandages. This will reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others. It is also a good idea to avoid sharing clothing, towels, and toys with infected individuals. Finally, wash your hands after touching any of your own molluscum contagiosum bumps so as to avoid transmitting the virus to other areas of your skin.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control: Molluscum Contagiosum Page

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