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Everything You Need to Know About Molluscum Contagiosum

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a fairly common skin infection or condition caused by a virus called Molluscum contagiosum, a type of poxvirus. It manifests as raised, pearly, flesh or skin coloured bumps which may sometimes have a central dimple (known as “central umbilication”).  

How does molluscum contagiosum spread?

Molluscum contagiosum is spread through skin contact with the virus. 

This can occur if you come into direct contact with someone else’s molluscum lesions, be it through sexual contact, or during contact sports like wrestling.

Unfortunately, the virus can survive on surfaces outside the body and can remain on infected surfaces like clothing, towels, gym equipment etc. Someone else who then comes into contact with these surfaces can get infected. 

In someone who is already infected, scratching or touching the lesions and then touching other parts of their body can result in the virus spreading. Shaving over infected skin can also spread the virus and worsen the infection. 

Once lesions resolve, an infected individual is no longer contagious. 

Who is affected by molluscum contagiosum?

Both children and adults alike can be infected by the virus. It is common amongst young children who may spread the virus through playing with each other. Lesions may occur anywhere – on the trunk, limbs, armpits, neck and possibly even face.

In adults, it is more commonly spread through sexual contact and may be considered an STD. The resultant lesions occur anywhere on the lower abdominal wall to the external genitalia and perineum. 

Individuals with weakened immune systems e.g. cancer patients or immunosuppressed patients, or individuals with skin conditions like eczema are at higher risk of being infected. 

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum gives rise to shiny, pearly, skin coloured bumps which may range in number from few to many. These can occur anywhere on the body depending on where the virus inoculates the skin. These bumps are painless and can range in size from barely visible to several millimeters in size or larger. When lesions are larger, you may be able to notice a central dimple. 

In individuals with weakened immune system, lesions may be far more widespread e.g. >100 lesions.

Symptoms usually surface between 2 weeks to 2 months from initial infection, but can be delayed for up to half a year even. 

What are the complications of molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a benign and self-limiting condition. However, scratching lesions can result in scarring or secondary bacterial skin infections.

How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?

Molluscum contagiosum is diagnosed clinically i.e. by identification of the classic pearly skin bumps. If the lesions look atypical, a skin scraping of a bump may be useful – examination under a microscope will reveal “molluscum bodies” which confirms the diagnosis, but this is not routinely performed in most patients. 

How is molluscum contagiosum treated?

Treatment of molluscum contagiosum is not always necessary as the condition is self-limiting and lesions will eventually resolve by themselves without scarring. Most lesions will resolve within a year but can take longer than that. 

Treatment is recommended for:

  • Lesions around the genital or perianal region
  • If lesions are large 
  • In immunocompromised individuals with extensive lesions 

Various treatment methods available include:

  • Physical removal of lesions – with laser removal or cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen)
  • Topical creams or ointments e.g. podophyllotoxin application, imiquimod cream – but the efficacy of topical treatment may vary 
  • In immunocompromised individuals, usual treatment methods may fail and specific, special treatment (e.g. intralesional interferon) may be required 

How do I minimize my risk of getting molluscum contagiosum?

Good hygiene habits are crucial to minimize your risk of molluscum – regular hand washing, not sharing towels or sports equipment, wiping down equipment at the gym before usage, or covering equipment with your own towel rather than sitting or lying directly on it. Do not share razors or personal items. 

Avoid touching lesions if you are infected. Do not scratch, pick, or attempt to pop lesions. Shaving should also be avoided. Molluscum lesions should ideally be covered e.g. with a plaster to reduce the risk of transmission. 

Adults with lesions around their genital or perianal region should also avoid sexual contact until these have been treated. 

If you are concerned about any skin lumps or bumps and think you may have molluscum contagiosum, it is best to hold off attempting to treat it yourself (this may worsen the infection!) and see a doctor as soon as possible.

If you would like to find out more about molluscum contagiosum come down to any of our clinics for a consultation.