Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral skin infection that affects children and adults. It is sometimes mistaken for other conditions, such as an allergy, pimples, or even condyloma. The virus causes tiny dome-shaped lesions or growths that are easily transmitted from skin-to-skin contact.
The tiny skin growths associated with molluscum contagiosum generally take 2 to 7 weeks to appear after infection and about 2 to 3 months to go away on their own. The growths are painless, either skin-colored or pink, often shiny, and with a small indentation in the top. They can be found individually or in clusters where skin touches skin, such as the fold of the arm or the groin. In addition they may appear on the face, neck, armpits, abdomen, legs buttocks, or genital area.
The virus that causes molluscum contagiosum belongs to the poxvirus family, which also includes the wart virus. It infects the top layers of skin by entering through small breaks of the hair follicles, but doesn't go any further and thus does not affect any internal organs.
Molluscum contagiosum is spread through direct contact with the lesions, which is one reason it's common among children. In adults, the virus is often acquired through sexual contact and thus the growths may be found clustered in the genital area. In these cases, the infection is classed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Despite the relative harmlessness of molluscum contagiosum, most doctors prefer to treat the infection to prevent it from spreading.
There are no viral medications yet to treat the condition. Lesions, however, can be surgically removed or treated with drugs or other techniques that are used to treat warts, such as liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy) or laser therapy. If the lesions are in the genital area, be sure to get screened for other STIs at the same time.
To prevent the growths from becoming infected, do not touch or scratch them. Be patient, and they'll leave without a scar.
To avoid spreading molluscum contagiosum, don't allow any direct contact between the growths and other parts of the body or other people until they are completely gone. During sexual contact, wearing a condom can help reduce the risk of transmission but cannot completely eliminate it since there may be lesions on adjacent areas (the inner thighs, for example) that are not covered.
Molluscum contagiosum is not associated with any severe complications, such as infertility.
If you think that you have this disease, see your doctor for proper diagnosis.