Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum


Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum is a common skin disease. The disease is generally mild and should not be a reason for concern or worry.

Risk Factors

This skin disease can cause the bumps to spread to different parts of the body. This is called autoinoculation. Such spread can occur by touching or scratching a bump and then touching another part of the body. The virus can also be spread from person to person. This can happen if the growths on one person are touched by another person. It can also happen if the virus gets on an object that is touched by other people, such as sharing towels, clothing, and toys. Molluscum can also be spread from one person to another by sexual contact. Anyone who develops bumps in the genital area (on or near the penis, vulva, vagina, or anus) should see a health care provider. Bumps in these areas sometimes mean that molluscum or some other disease was spread through sexual contact.

The below items may put you at a greater risk for contracting molluscum contagiosum:

  • Tropical or warm, humid climates.
  • Weakened immune system, particularly in those with HIV.
  • Those with atopic dermatitis.
  • Overcrowded conditions.
  • Sexual contact.
  • Poor hygiene.


Molluscum infection causes small white, pink, or flesh-colored bumps or growths with a dimple or pit in the center. The bumps are usually smooth and firm and can appear anywhere on the body. They may become sore, red, and swollen but are usually painless. The bumps normally disappear within 6 to 12 months without treatment and without leaving scars. In people with weakened immune systems, molluscum growths may grow very large, spread more easily to other parts of the body and may be harder to cure.


Diagnosis is usually made by the characteristic appearance of the lesion. It may also be diagnosed by collecting a specimen from the lesion, called a biopsy. Biopsies are routinely performed in dermatology offices.


American Academy of Dermatology Centers for Disease Control and Prevention American Sexual Health Association



The lesions caused by a molluscum infection usually clear up on their own within 6-24 months without any treatment. However, treatment of the lesions can speed their resolution and reduces the chance of the lesions further spreading as well as transmission to others.

Some methods of removal may include: chemical agents to destruct the lesions, or cryotherapy (freezing of the lesion.)


There are multiple ways to prevent the spread or contraction of molluscum contagiosum. Some of these include :

  • Washing hands thoroughly and frequently if you or a family member are infected.
  • Not scratching at or picking at lesions.
  • Keeping lesions covered.
  • Keeping skin moisturized, as breaks in the skin barrier from dry skin or eczema can hasten the spread of lesions.
  • If you are infected, do not take part in contact sports, such as wrestling, basketball, or football. 
  • Avoid swimming unless you can cover lesions with watertight bandages. Keep lesions covered with bandages and if swimming, use watertight bandages.
  • Do not share personal items, such as towels, unwashed clothing, watches, bar soap, etc.
  • Avoid sexual contact.


American Academy of Dermatology Centers for Disease Control and Prevention American Sexual Health Association


How is molluscum transmitted?

Molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV) is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact of the lesions.

MCV may be transmitted from inanimate objects such as towels and clothing that come in contact with the lesions. MCV transmission has been associated with swimming pools and sharing baths with an infected person.

MCV also may be transmitted by auto inoculation - touching a lesion and touching another part of the body. To prevent spreading the infection further, do not shave over or close to lesions, and do not pick at sites that are visibly infected.

What is the incubation period?

The incubation period averages 2 to 3 months and may range from 1 week to 6 months.

How long are you infectious?

This is not known for certain, but researchers assume that if the virus is present, it may be transmitted.

What are the symptoms?

Children typically develop lesions on the face, trunk, legs and arms.

In adults, lesions are usually present on the thighs, buttocks, groin and lower abdomen.

The lesions may begin as small bumps which can develop over a period of several weeks into larger sores/bumps. The lesions can be flesh colored, gray-white, yellow or pink. They can cause itching or tenderness in the area, but in most cases the lesions cause few problems. Lesions can last from 2 weeks to 4 years—the average is 2 years.

People with compromised immune systems may develop extensive outbreaks.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made by the characteristic appearance of the lesion. However, if the lesion does not have the typical features of molluscum, because it is irritated, or is not in a typical place, it may require a biopsy to diagnose.

How is it treated?

Most symptoms are self-resolving, but generally lesions are treated with a destructive technique. Treatment of lesions reduces auto inoculation and transmission to others.

Destructive therapies include topical medications applied in the office to intentionally irritate the lesions or cryotherapy which freezes and kills the infected skin cells.

Lesions may recur, but it is not clear whether this is due to reinfection, exacerbation of subclinical infection, or reactivation of latent infection.

What does it mean for my health?

In children, the lesions are harmless and does not typically reflect any underlying health issues. In adults, your health care provider will discuss potential associated diseases, if necessary.

How can I reduce my risk?

In children, infected siblings should not bathe with or share towels with other siblings. In between treatments, covering the lesions with liquid band-aids can decrease the risk of spreading the virus. Additionally, treating dry skin and eczema is important as the virus enters and infects skin that is cracked and damaged.

Because transmission through sexual contact is the most common form of transmission for adults, preventing skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner will be most effective in preventing MCV.

If you do get molluscum contagiosum, avoid touching the lesion and then touching another part of the body without washing your hands to prevent any chance of spreading the infection.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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