Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that presents similarly to acne, however it is contagious, meaning it can be transmitted to others.


According to NHS data, 90% of cases affect children, and historically molluscum contagiosum was thought to be a condition that strictly affected children, but it is possible to contract the infection at any age.

While molluscum contagiosum is a contagious viral skin condition that can be passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact, it is not easily passed on during normal everyday activities. People who have the condition can go to school or work, and even go swimming, but precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

In children, molluscum contagiosum is typically transmitted through normal contact with other children; but it can also occur if their skin has come into contact with items like toys or bedding that have been contaminated with the virus.

In teens and adults, it’s more typical to contract molluscum contagiosum through sexual contact, since the virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact, but it may also be transmitted in instances when bare skin is in contact (for example, during sport such as football or wrestling), or when the skin comes into contact with clothing, towels, or equipment that has been contaminated with the molluscum contagiosum virus.

Because of the prevalence of molluscum contagiosum presenting in teens and adults mainly as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it can be upsetting, confusing or embarrassing for patients or their families.

It’s reassuring for many patients to know that unless there are underlying medical conditions or complications, molluscum contagiosum usually resolves on its own, without the need for additional treatment, and it doesn’t often lead scarring – but it is very important to have a diagnosis confirmed by a qualified medical practitioner, such as a GP, in order to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

How long the molluscum contagiosum virus lasts varies for each individual, but the bumps can remain on the skin for a few months, or last for years before going away. It’s possible to have molluscum contagiosum more than once, but it is rare.

Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum typically presents as small red raised bumps that may appear similar to acne spots called papules, however they aren’t sore in the way that spots ‘coming up’ can be. Molluscum contagiosum papules may appear alone, or in patches of several lesions, and they can be very itchy.

If a person comes into contact with the virus, symptoms of infection may not present for up to 6 months, and the average incubation period is 2-7 weeks.

Commonly, molluscum contagiosum presents as bumps that are;

  • Small, shiny, and smooth;
  • Flesh-coloured, pinkish, or white;
  • Firm and dome-shaped, with a dent in the middle;
  • Filled with ‘wax’ in the centre;
  • Roughly 2-5 millimetres across.

These bumps may appear anywhere on the skin of the body except on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. In children, molluscum contagiosum papules usually affect the face, abdomen, trunk, arms, or legs. In teens and adults, the inner thighs, genitals, and abdomen areas are more commonly affected.

Molluscum contagiosum can be more severe in children with eczema and scratching can cause the infection to spread. It is important to treat the eczema before considering any treatment to the molluscum.

In people who are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed, either as a result of an underlying medical condition or due to medication, the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum can be more severe and more difficult to treat. Lesions can be significantly larger, up to 15 millimetres across, and can present on the face.

Causes of Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by contact with the pox virus called molluscum contagiosum, which occurs either through direct contact with the skin; or when the skin comes into contact with contaminated items, such as toys, clothing or sports equipment contaminated with the virus.

Treatment of Molluscum Contagiosum at Derma

While your GP can diagnose and treat cases of molluscum contagiosum, we are more than happy to see patients who prefer to consult a private dermatology specialist.

The appointment will begin with an examination of the skin (also called a skin check) and discussing your medical history. If you are seeking to confirm a diagnosis for a child, the dermatologist may ask questions about the medical histories of the parents, in order to rule out any underlying or co-occurring condition.

In some patients, it may be necessary to perform an investigation such as blood tests or a skin biopsy in order to confirm the diagnosis. This can usually be performed on the same day as your consultation.

Most cases of molluscum contagiosum can be managed using topical anti-itching treatments available over the counter from chemists, but prescription creams may be helpful in more severe cases, or tablets might be necessary if there is an infection from scratching. Together with the dermatologist, you will be able to discuss the latest and most effective treatments and explain all potential side-effects, enabling you to select the best option for you, or for your child.

Whatever your needs, you can rest assured that Derma will provide the very best care with access to the latest research and treatment methods.

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