What is Molluscum Contagiosum?
Molluscum Contagiosum is a viral infection that produces small, flesh-colored, dome shaped bumps that can often become irritated or painful. They may appear to have a shiny surface in a small central indentation, or white core.
Why should I care about Molluscum Contagiosum?
Molluscum Contagiosum is a benign condition that will spread through direct skin contact. This contact can be in the patient’s own skin spreading to other areas, or from direct skin-to-skin contact, especially in children. Molluscum Contagiosum can also be transmitted through swimming pools and shower room floors.
Most cases of Molluscum Contagiosum will go away without treatment. As the name implies, the condition is very contagious. Some of the lesions can become very painful and infected. When this happens, treatment is usually indicated.
What causes Molluscum Contagiosum?
Molluscum Contagiosum is a viral infection caused by the poxvirus that infects only the skin and not any internal organs.
How common is Molluscum Contagiosum?
Molluscum Contagiosum is very common, especially in children whose immune systems have not developed immunity to the poxvirus that causes Molluscum Contagiosum.
How is Molluscum Contagiosum diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Molluscum Contagiosum is most commonly identified by a visual diagnosis; however, a biopsy of the skin and/or skin scrapings can also confirm the diagnosis.
Can Molluscum Contagiosum be prevented?
Molluscum Contagiosum can be prevented by avoiding direct skin-to-skin contact with other persons who have Molluscum and wearing flip-flops to protect the skin from the floors of shower rooms. It is important for patients not to scratch Molluscum as it can spread to other areas of the body. This is especially important because shaving the legs is a common cause of spreading.
How is Molluscum Contagiosum treated?
Molluscum Contagiosum is often treated by “lack of treatment,” because many of the lesions will resolve on their own. As a dermatologist, I usually encounter the more difficult cases that do require treatment. I believe if you’re going to treat Molluscum, one should treat it early to prevent spreading it to others.
Because it is a viral infection, we must recruit the patient’s immune system to do a better job at recognizing the cells infected with the virus, and then eliminating the infected skin cells. This can be done by several methods including freezing, scraping, topical medications and laser therapy. All of these treatments can be performed in a dermatologist’s office.
If there are many lesions, several treatment sessions may be required for complete clearing. Some discomfort is also associated with Molluscum Contagiosum treatments. Sometimes an “at-home treatment” is also recommended; this can include applying topical medications. During treatment sessions, some new Molluscum may develop, and this is normal.
Action steps for anyone with unwanted Molluscum Contagiosum
Lesions should be covered to avoid direct skin contact with other schoolchildren, or other people, to prevent spreading of Molluscum. If a patient has Molluscum Contagiosum, the condition should be evaluated by a primary care physician or dermatologist to see if treatment is required.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African-American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.