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Molluscum Contagiosum


Disease: Molluscum Contagiosum Molluscum Contagiosum
Category: Dermatological diseases
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Disease Definition:

The relatively common viral infection of the skin that most often affects children is called molluscum contagiosum. This condition results in firm bumps (papules) that are painless and usually disappear without treatment within a year. The infection can spread to surrounding skin if the papules are injured or scratched.

Molluscum may also affect adults, though this condition is more common in children. Molluscum contagiosum that involves the genitals is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in adults. In adults with an altered immune system, the disorder may be seen as well.

Contact with contaminated objects and direct person-to-person contact spreads molluscum contagiosum. Medical treatment, for adults in particular, is recommended because the disorder spreads easily.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Raised, round, flesh-colored bumps (papules) on the skin are caused by molluscum contagiosum. These papules:


  • Can become red and inflamed
  • Are small, typically about 1/16 inch to 3/16 inch (about 2 to 5 millimeters) in diameter
  • Can be easily removed by scratching or rubbing them, but this spreads the virus to adjacent skin
  • Characteristically have a small indentation or dot at their top

The papules typically appear on the hands, arms, neck, face and armpits of children. As for adults, the condition is usually seen on the buttocks, inner upper thighs, lower abdomen and genitals, and it may be a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

The disorder isn't related to genital warts, which are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and it doesn't lead to serious illness. However, when having genital molluscum, adults should be screened for other STDs.


An infection by the molluscum contagiosum virus, which is a member of the poxvirus family, causes molluscum contagiosum.

Through contact with contaminated objects such as faucet handles, toys and doorknobs, direct skin-to-skin contact and through contact with an affected partner is how this virus spreads. The virus spreads to nearby skin by shaving, rubbing or scratching the papules.





Though molluscum contagiosum can sometimes take years to disappear completely, it can resolve without treatment within 6 to 12 months for people with a normal immune system. For children whose immune systems aren't fully developed, the condition may take longer to resolve.

Medical treatment, for adults in particular, is recommended because molluscum spreads easily. Removal of the papules by the following may be included in the treatment for molluscum contagiosum:


  • Laser therapy
  • Scraping or curettage
  • Freezing (cryotherapy)

To lessen the discomfort, a topical anesthetic can be prescribed before these procedures.

In removing the papules, medications used to remove warts may be helpful. In addition to that, the medication imiquimod has been studied; however, it hasn't been shown to be uniformly effective.

Some people develop eczema or dermatitis around the papules, although molluscum contagiosum typically doesn't cause itching. Prescription topical steroids or over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone creams or ointments may help in treating the itching caused by dermatitis. However, these medications shouldn't be applied to the molluscum papules but only to the areas of dermatitis.

For people with weakened immune systems such as those with AIDS or certain skin disorders such as atopic eczema, the disorder may be progressive and more extensive. In these cases, professional treatment should be sought. 


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