Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a mild skin infection. It is most common in children aged 1 to 10 years, but can also affect adults.

The infection manifests as small skin-coloured or pinkish-white bumps or growths that often have a small umbilication (small indentation or depression at the top). In children, they usually appear on the face, torso or arms. In adults, the infection tends to affect the genitals.

The growths, which are painless and typically do not itch, resolve on their own within 6 to 12 months. While scarring rarely occurs, scratching them may leave marks on the skin.

Causes and triggers

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus. Individuals are contagious from the time the bumps appear until they have all healed, and transmission can occur in several ways:

  • Through skin-to-skin contact (including sexual contact).
  • Through indirect contact with contaminated objects (e.g., sports equipment, sponges).
  • Through autoinoculation (spread to other parts of the body by scratching or touching infected bumps).

Individuals with a weakened immune system are at higher risk for developing molluscum contagiosum.

Treatment

Treatment of molluscum contagiosum in children is optional. In adolescents and adults who have lesions on their genitals, treatment is recommended in order to prevent transmission through sexual contact. There are a few treatment options available, including:

  • Scraping (known as curettage), performed under local anesthesia, which involves removing the growths with a special device.
  • Cryotherapy, which involves freezing off the growths.
  • The application of a prescription medication on the skin.

Once the bumps have healed, the virus can be caught again if there is contact with a person who is infected. Precautions should therefore be taken in order to avoid reinfection.

Here are some measures to prevent the spread of molluscum contagiosum:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Do not share personal items (e.g., towels, razors, etc.).
  • Do not touch or scratch the bumps.
  • Cover bumps with bandages or clothing before engaging in contact sports (e.g., football, judo).
  • If there are bumps on or near the genitals (penis, vulva, vagina or anus), avoid all sexual activity and see a medical professional.

When should I see a medical professional?

  • If one of the bumps looks infected (swelling, redness, weeping or pain).
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