Molluscum Contagiosum

Topic Overview

What is molluscum contagiosum?

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

What are the symptoms?

The bumps are round with a dimple in the center. They are a little smaller in size than the eraser on the end of a pencil. The bumps don't cause pain. They may appear alone or in groups. They most often appear on the trunk, face, eyelids, or genital area. The bumps may become inflamed and turn red as your body fights the virus.

People who have a weakened immune system may have dozens of larger bumps. These may need special treatment.

How does molluscum contagiosum spread?

The 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 it can take up to 6 months.1

To prevent molluscum contagiosum from spreading:

  • Try not to scratch.
  • Put a piece of tape or a bandage over the bumps.
  • Do not share towels or washcloths.
  • If the bumps are on your face, don't shave.
  • If the bumps are in your genital area, avoid sexual contact.

How is it diagnosed?

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 (STIs), such as genital herpes.

How is it treated?

In most cases, molluscum contagiosum doesn't need to be treated. The bumps usually go away on their own in 6 to 9 months. But in some cases, they may last much longer—sometimes even for years.

Doctors usually recommend treatment for these bumps in the genital area to prevent them from spreading.

If you need treatment, your choices may include:

  • Freezing the bumps, called cryotherapy or cryosurgery.
  • Scraping off the bumps, called curettage.
  • Putting a chemical on the bumps, like cantharidin or potassium hydrochloride.
  • Using medicines (liquids or creams), such as those used to treat warts.

Children may not need treatment, because molluscum contagiosum usually goes away on its own. But if your child needs treatment, talk to your child's doctor about how to prevent pain and scarring.

Who gets molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is most common in children, especially those younger than age 12. In teens and young adults, it usually is a sexually transmitted infection. But wrestlers, swimmers, gymnasts, massage therapists, and people who use steam rooms and saunas also can get it.

Molluscum contagiosum is more common in warm, humid climates with crowded living conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about molluscum contagiosum:

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Academy of Dermatology
P.O. Box 4014
Schaumburg, IL  60168
Phone: 1-866-503-SKIN (1-866-503-7546) toll-free
(847) 240-1280
Fax: (847) 240-1859
Email: MRC@aad.org
Web Address: www.aad.org
 

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) provides information about the care of skin. You can locate a dermatologist in your area by using their "Find a Dermatologist" tool. Or you can read the latest news in dermatology. "SPOT Skin Cancer" is the AAD's program to reduce deaths from melanoma. There is also a link called "Skin Conditions" that has information about many common skin problems.


American Social Health Association
P.O. Box 13827
Research Triangle Park, NC  27709
Phone: (919) 361-8400
Fax: (919) 361-8425
Web Address: www.ashastd.org
 

The mission of the American Social Health Association is to improve the health of individuals, families, and communities, with a focus on sexual health and preventing sexually transmitted diseases.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA  30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Web Address: www.cdc.gov
 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC works with state and local health officials and the public to achieve better health for all people. The CDC creates the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health—by promoting health, preventing disease, injury, and disability, and being prepared for new health threats.


Related Information

References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Molluscum contagiosum. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 466–467. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Other Works Consulted

  • Gordon PM, Benton EC (2010). Molluscum contagiosum. In MG Lebwohl et al., eds., Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies, 3rd ed., pp. 442–445. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.
  • Habif TP (2010). Sexually transmitted viral infections. In Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy, 5th ed., pp. 419–453. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.
  • Habif TP (2010). Warts, herpes simplex, and other viral infections. In Clinical Dermatology, A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy, 5th ed., pp. 454–490. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.
  • Habif TP, et al. (2011). Herpes simplex section of Viral infections. In Skin Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment, 3rd ed., pp. 224–229. Edinburgh: Saunders.
  • Piggott C, et al. (2012). Poxvirus infections. In LA Goldman et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 8th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2402–2420. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Last Revised October 10, 2012

Last Revised: October 10, 2012

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