Consult the medical resource doctors trust

UpToDate is one of the most respected medical information resources in the world, used by more than 600,000 doctors and thousands of patients to find answers to medical questions.

  • Content written by a faculty of over 5,100 physicians from leading medical institutions
  • Unbiased: free of advertising or pharmaceutical funding
  • Evidence-based treatment recommendations
  • Continuously updated to incorporate new medical findings

Related articles

Patient information: Molluscum contagiosum (Beyond the Basics)

INTRODUCTION

Molluscum contagiosum is the name of a virus that causes a common skin infection of the same name. The infection can develop in children and adults. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact or by contact with an object with the virus on it, such as a used towel or washcloth. Symptoms of molluscum include small, skin-colored growths on the skin.

Molluscum contagiosum usually resolves on its own without complications after a number of months. Treatment is recommended to get rid of growths in the genital area. Treatment for molluscum in other areas is optional, and may be performed to prevent spread to new areas on the skin.

More detailed information about molluscum is available to readers by subscription. (See "Molluscum contagiosum".)

MOLLUSCUM SYMPTOMS

The most common symptoms of molluscum include:

Small, dome-shaped bumps with a dimple in the center (picture 1). The bumps are the size of a pinhead to pencil eraser (2 to 5 millimeters). Most people have a group or line of bumps together. People with a weakened immune system may develop larger bumps in large groups.

The bumps are skin-colored to white, do not hurt, and usually do not itch.

The bumps can appear anywhere on the body except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

How did I get molluscum? — The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact or by contact with a surface that has the virus on it. This means that you can spread the virus:

From one area of the body to another by scratching or touching a bump

From person to person by touching molluscum on another person during contact sports, sexual activity, or other activities

By touching an object with the virus on it, such as a towel or washcloth used by a person with molluscum

The bumps usually appear two to six weeks after you are exposed to the virus. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose molluscum based on an exam; a biopsy is not usually necessary.

How do I avoid infecting other people? — If you are sexually active and have molluscum on your penis, vulva, upper inner thighs, buttocks, or skin immediately above the genitals, you should be treated so that you do not spread the virus to others during sex. If you have molluscum on other areas, you can reduce the likelihood of spread by covering the bumps during the day with clothing or a bandage.

Do not share towels, washcloths, razors, or other personal equipment. Once the bumps have resolved, you cannot spread the virus to others. However, you can become infected again, so do not touch molluscum bumps on other people.

If your child has molluscum and attends daycare or school, try to cover the bumps with a bandage or clothing. Children with molluscum that cannot be covered should avoid wrestling or rough-housing to reduce the risk of spread of the infection to others.

MOLLUSCUM TREATMENT

In healthy people, molluscum usually disappears without treatment within a few months. The infection may persist for several months if new growths continue to develop. People with weakened immune systems can develop severe and long-lasting infections.

Treatment is recommended in sexually active adolescents and adults to get rid of molluscum on the penis, vulva, skin near the genitals, or buttocks because treatment of these areas can help to prevent the spread of the infection to other people during sex.

Treatment for molluscum in children is optional since the molluscum will eventually heal on their own. Reasons why molluscum may be treated include cosmetic concerns or to try to prevent the spread of infection to other body areas, siblings, or playmates.

There are several treatment options for molluscum, which include:

Freezing the growths (called cryotherapy)

Scraping off the growths

A treatment called cantharidin, which forms a blister and gets rid of the molluscum once the blister heals

Various medications applied to the molluscum bumps (one example is podophyllotoxin)

No one treatment for molluscum has proven to be the "best." Therefore, treatment usually depends on where the growths are located, your preferences, and the preferences of your healthcare provider. You should try not to pick or scrape off the bumps yourself because you may cause a bacterial infection of the skin or may spread the molluscum virus to other areas. Side effects of treatment can include pain, skin irritation, skin discoloration, and scarring.

WHERE TO GET MORE INFORMATION

Your healthcare provider is the best source of information for questions and concerns related to your medical problem.

This article will be updated as needed on our web site (www.uptodate.com/patients). Related topics for patients, as well as selected articles written for healthcare professionals, are also available. Some of the most relevant are listed below.

Patient level information — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials.

The Basics — The Basics patient education pieces answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials.

This topic currently has no corresponding Basic content.

Beyond the Basics — Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

This topic currently has no corresponding Beyond the Basics content.

Professional level information — Professional level articles are designed to keep doctors and other health professionals up-to-date on the latest medical findings. These articles are thorough, long, and complex, and they contain multiple references to the research on which they are based. Professional level articles are best for people who are comfortable with a lot of medical terminology and who want to read the same materials their doctors are reading.

Molluscum contagiosum

The following organizations also provide reliable health information.

The National Library of Medicine

     (www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000826.htm)

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

     (www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/molluscum/)

[1,2]

Literature review current through: Nov 2014. | This topic last updated: Oct 17, 2013.
The content on the UpToDate website is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. The use of this website is governed by the UpToDate Terms of Use ©2014 UpToDate, Inc.

All topics are updated as new information becomes available. Our peer review process typically takes one to six weeks depending on the issue.