Molluscum contagiosum

Also known as the molluscipox virus

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection (caused by a pox virus).

It appears as small, firm, flesh-coloured lumps with white waxy centres. These can appear anywhere on the body such as arms, legs, trunk, face, thighs, lower abdomen or genital area. They also commonly appear in warm moist places such as the armpit.

Because of their appearance they can be confused with genital warts or pimples. Molluscum contagiosum usually affects children, sexually active adults and those with a suppressed immune system.

Symptoms

Molluscum contagiosum is usually painless but can sometimes be itchy, especially if the lumps get infected.
  • They usually appear within about two to three months after infection but this can vary.
  • Without treatment, they can persist for six months to two years.
  • Most clear up within one year but some people find they get recurrences.
  • Some people do not develop lesions even though they have come into contact with the virus.

People with a suppressed immune system may have problems with molluscum contagiosum being widespread and less responsive to treatment.

Transmission

Molluscum contagiosum is spread by close skin-to-skin contact. It may also be possible for it to be transmitted via clothing or towels, and it can be spread from one part of the body to another by scratching. Transmission may be more likely in wet conditions, e.g. when children bathe or swim together.

Treatment

Treatment is usually for cosmetic reasons as the lumps may resolve by themselves. Molluscum can be removed by using a clean needle to remove the centre core or by freezing or burning the lesions. Imiquimod (Aldara) cream may also be used.

Will sexual partners also have molluscum contagiosum?

They may have or they may not. It is advisable for sexual partners to see a nurse or doctor for a check-up if they have any unexplained lumps or itches.

Are there any complications of molluscum contagiosum?

There are no serious complications. The lesions can become infected and look red and sore. This can also happen after treatment.

Learn more

Molluscum contagiosum DermNet NZ, 2015

Credits: Auckland Sexual Health Service, June 2007. Image from 123rf image library. Reviewed By: Health Navigator