Molluscum Contagiosum


Molluscum Contagiosum

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral skin infection which occurs worldwide but is more common in warm climates. This condition frequently affects children.

In healthy individuals molluscum contagiosum is a harmless infection which resolves spontaneously without treatment.  Infection is spread by direct skin contact with infected individuals.  Outbreaks may occur among children who bathe or swim together and sexual transmission is possible.

Incubation periods range from 2 weeks to 6 months.

What do molluscum contagiosum look like?

Molluscum contagiosum lesions are small round dome-shaped lumps which are generally 3 to 6 mm in diameter, however they can be as large as 30 mm in diameter.

Molluscum_Contagiosum _1
Image reproduced with permission of Department of Dermatology St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne

The lumps often have a central dip and are pearly or skin coloured. Dermatitis and itch can occur around the lumps, particularly in children with atopic eczema.

Image reproduced with permission of Department of Dermatology St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne

Scratching can spread the infection and crops of lesions appear as the virus spreads.

How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?

Molluscum contagiosum is usually diagnosed as a result of a physical examination by your doctor. Formal tests are not usually required to reach a diagnosis.

How is molluscum contagiosum treated?

Treatment of molluscum contagiosum is not essential as most lesions will resolve (go away) spontaneously. However, it can take a long time for the condition to resolve.

Treatment is usually aimed at limiting the spread of the condition and alleviating symptoms such as itching. Any associated dermatitis may be treated with corticosteroid creams.

Showering rather than taking a bath may limit the spread of infection.

Treatment, if given, often needs to be repeated until the lesions clear.

Treatments may include:

  • Liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
  • Gentle squeezing after pricking with a sterile needle
  • Curettage (surgically scraping the lesion)
  • Cantharadin
  • 5% Imiquimod cream
  • Wart paints such as salicylic acid lotion

Most cases of molluscum contagiosum spontaneously improve after 6 to 9 months. However lesions can persist for much longer in children with impaired immune systems.

This information has been written by Dr Kate Dunlop


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