Common Viral Skin Infection
What is Molluscum Contagiosum? It is a
common viral skin infection that affects mainly children. The
virus that causes molluscum contagiosum is a member of the
poxvirus family. It spreads by skin-to-skin contact from
contaminated objects like toys, doorknobs, faucet handles and
other objects. Once again, day care facilities and schools are
primary sites of infection.
Molluscum infections occur worldwide but are more common in
warm, humid climates and where living conditions are crowded.
There is evidence that molluscum infections have been on the
rise in the United States since 1966, but these infections are
not routinely monitored because they are seldom serious and
routinely disappear without treatment.
Molluscum is common enough that you should not be surprised
if you see someone with it or if someone in your family becomes
infected. Although not limited to children, it is most common
in children 1 to 10 years of age. People with weakened immune
systems such as HIV-infected persons or persons being
treated for cancer are at higher risk for getting molluscum,
and their growths may look different, be larger, and be more
difficult to treat.
The infection first appears as painless bumps that can
disappear within a year without treatment. If left alone the
bumps cause no harm. The bumps are rarely found on the palms of
the hands or the soles of the feet.
This rash starts out with bumps that are round, raised
and flesh-colored. They have a small indentation or dot on the
top of them. The rash can appear on the face, armpits, hands,
neck and arms. They can be as small as the head of a pin and as
large as a pencil eraser (2 to 5 millimeters in diameter). The
bumps can become red and inflamed. If scratched or rubbed they
will come off, but then spread to nearby skin.... so don't
scratch! Try telling that to a child. Warmth and moisture can
spread the virus to nearby skin as well as scratching or
This is an image of the more common
This is a much more sever
molluscum rash on the back of an immune
Persons with weakened immune
systems (such as cancer, organ transplantation,
HIV etc.) are at increased risk for catching
molluscum and may develop very large growths
(the size of a dime or larger—at least 15
millimeters in diameter). Bumps may be anywhere
on the body but tend to occur on the face and
not to go away by themselves.
Although Molluscum Contagiosum is generally a children's
virus, adults have been known to contract it as well.
If molluscum contagiosum appears on the genitals it can be
considered a sexual infection. Adults who contract molluscum
contagiosum should be screened for other sexually transmitted
diseases. The rash may also appear on the lower abdomen, inner
upper thighs and the buttocks in adults. This is NOT related to
genital warts and is not a serious infection. Adults with
altered immune systems are susceptible to Molluscum
Individuals should seek medical attention if you suspect you
or a child has this skin infection. Since children are always
popping out with one rash or another, it is imperative that a
health care professional determine the exact cause. Yes,
grandma probably can tell one rash from another, but go to the
Treatment for Molluscum Contagiosum
Without any formal treatment Molluscum Contagiosum generally
clears up on its own in 6 to 18 months. Children may take
longer to heal.
Treatment of molluscum is more difficult among persons with
weakened immune systems. The best treatment is to strengthen
the immune system by treating the primary problem.
Doctors may remove the infection to stop the spread to
nearby skin by scraping or using curettage, or by surgical
removal, freezing (cryotherapy) or by using laser therapy.
Wart medications may also remove molluscum contagiosum
If the individual has any other skin disorders like atopic
eczema or a weakened immune system the infection can become
progressively worse and more extensive so these individuals
should seek medical intervention.
To stop the spread of this skin infection: Avoid touching,
scratching or rubbing the papules. Do not shave over the
Do not share towels, razors or other personal items with
others. Avoid sexual contact until the papules have completely
healed. As with all skin-to-skin contact infections, it is
important to wash hands frequently, avoid sharing utensils and
all personal items with the affected individuals. Wash towels
and bed linens in hot water and soap.
Only a health care provider can diagnose molluscum
infection. If you have any unusual skin irritation, rash,
bump(s), or blister(s) that do not disappear in a few days, you
should see a health care provider.
The virus lives only in the skin and once the growths are
gone, the virus is gone and you cannot spread the virus to
Molluscum contagiosum is not like herpes viruses, which can
remain dormant (“sleeping”) in your body for long periods and
then reappear. So, assuming you do not come in contact with
another infected person, once all the molluscum contagiosum
bumps go away, you will not develop any new bumps.
Recovery from one infection
with molluscum does not prevent future infections with
If you get new molluscum contagiosum bumps after you are
cured, it means you have come in contact with an infected
person or object.
The most common complication is a secondary infection caused
by bacteria. Additionally, the removal of bumps by scratching,
freezing (cryotherapy), or fluid removal (curettage) can leave
scars on the skin.
Day Care and School - Can they go or do they need to stay
There should be no reason to keep a child with molluscum
infection home from day care or school. Growths not covered by
clothing should be covered with a watertight bandage. Change
the bandage daily or when obviously soiled.
If a child with bumps in the underwear/diaper area needs
assistance going to the bathroom or needs diaper changes, then
growths in this area should be bandaged too if possible.
Covering the bumps will protect other children and adults
from getting molluscum and will also keep the child from
touching and scratching the bumps, which could spread the bumps
to other parts of his/her body or cause secondary (bacterial)
Remind children to wash their hands frequently
The risk of a secondary infection caused by bacteria is
always present. Don't scratch!!!