Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that causes one or many raised, pearl-like bumps (papules) on your skin. Papules may persist from a few months to a few years. The condition easily spreads (contagious). Treatment helps the infection go away but isn’t always necessary, as it can also go away on its own.


What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a virus. The infection creates small, raised bumps on your skin that have the appearance of a pearl. These bumps are usually white but can match your natural skin tone or appear pink to purple. Bumps from the infection can form anywhere on your skin but it’s most common on your face, neck, arms, legs or genitals.


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Who does molluscum contagiosum affect?

Molluscum contagiosum can affect anyone at any age. It’s most common among children under 10 years. You could be at an increased risk if you:

  • Have a weakened immune system.
  • Have eczema.
  • Live in a warm, humid climate.
  • Live in an environment with a lot of other people (crowded).

How common is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is common. The exact rate of occurrence is unknown, as the condition resolves on its own.


How does molluscum contagiosum affect my body?

Molluscum contagiosum is an infection caused by a virus. The virus (poxvirus) spreads from person to person through physical contact or contaminated surfaces or objects. This infection begins with a single bump that can spread and increase in number when you itch your skin. These bumps can be bothersome, sore, swollen and itchy. The condition resolves on its own within six to 12 months and usually doesn’t scar your skin.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Symptoms of molluscum contagiosum range from mild to severe and include:

  • Small, pimple-like bump (papule), lesion or wart on your skin (2 to 5 millimeters).
  • Papule is white, the same color as your natural skin tone or pink to purple.
  • Papule has a small indent (dimple) in the center.
  • Papule is firm but can become soft over time.
  • Papule can drain a clear to white fluid.
  • Itchy skin.

Scratching the papule on your skin causes it to spread. This causes:

  • Multiple papules form in a line or cluster (crops or rash) near the area of the original papule.
  • The skin around the papules swells (inflammation), gets bigger and turns red to purple.
  • The papules become painful.

Among people who have eczema, AIDS or other conditions that affect their immune system, the lesions associated with molluscum contagiosum can grow larger than 5 mm (giant molluscum contagiosum).

Where do symptoms of molluscum contagiosum form on my body?

Papules from a molluscum contagiosum infection can form anywhere on your body but are most common on your:

  • Face (eyelids, lips).
  • Neck.
  • Arms.
  • Legs.
  • Genitals (penis, vagina, vulva).
  • Abdomen.
  • Inner thighs.


What causes molluscum contagiosum?

The molluscum contagiosum virus, which is a virus of the poxvirus family, causes molluscum contagiosum. When this virus enters your body, bumps or spots (papules) appear on your skin. These papules can spread to other areas of your skin and other people (contagious).

Is molluscum contagiosum contagious?

Yes, molluscum contagiosum is contagious. The virus that causes this infection spreads through:

  • Close physical contact (skin to skin).
  • Touching contaminated objects (clothing, towels, toys).
  • Sexual contact.

The exact time that you’re contagious is unknown, but studies suggest you could be contagious and spread the virus until the papules leave your skin.

Is molluscum contagiosum sexually transmitted?

Yes, molluscum contagiosum can be considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The virus that causes the condition can spread through close personal contact, which includes sexual contact. Symptoms can form on your genitals. But it's more commonly spread through casual contact.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will diagnose the molluscum contagiosum infection after performing a physical exam and asking questions to understand more about your symptoms. Your provider will also take a complete medical history. The appearance of the bump(s) or papule(s) on your skin will lead to a diagnosis.

A skin biopsy can help confirm a diagnosis, where your provider will remove a small sample of the papule from your skin to examine it under a microscope.

Management and Treatment

How is molluscum contagiosum treated?

Treatment for molluscum contagiosum isn’t necessary, as the infection can clear up on its own.

For children, people with a weakened immune system or people who have symptoms that cause pain and discomfort, treatment could include:

  • Removing the papules: Your provider could use different therapies to remove visible signs of the condition from your skin by freezing the papule (cryotherapy), scraping out the papule (curettage) or using a laser to remove it (laser therapy). Don’t try to remove your papules on your own; your provider will safely remove them.
  • Taking medicine: Medicine is common to treat infections in kids like cimetidine (oral).
  • Using topical creams or ointments: Topical creams and ointments speed up your recovery time and reduce symptoms. Topical medicine could include podophyllum, potassium hydroxide, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin.

Are there complications of the treatment?

Removal of the papules could cause scarring. There could be side effects or reactions to medicines that your healthcare provider prescribes. Make sure you tell your provider all of the medicines you currently take to avoid interactions with new medicine. Talk to your provider about the side effects of the medicine they recommend.

How soon after treatment will I feel better?

Without treatment, the papules can go away on their own in six to 12 months, but some cases can take up to a few years to go away completely. Treatment can reduce your symptoms, especially pain and itching, and can speed up your healing time.


How can I prevent molluscum contagiosum?

You can help prevent this condition by:

  • Avoiding direct contact with anyone who has skin lesions.
  • Treating underlying eczema.
  • Not sharing towels or washcloths.
  • Sanitizing heavily used surfaces and objects.
  • Practicing safe sex or avoid having sex with partners who have an infection. Condoms can’t offer full protection, as the virus can be found in areas not covered by the condom.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum can clear up on its own, but treatment reduces your infection time and decreases the spread of the infection to other parts of your skin. Your child’s provider might recommend treatment if your toddler is in daycare or school where they have close contact with others to prevent the spread of the infection.

During your infection, try not to scratch the papules on your skin. They can break open and you’re at risk of getting a bacterial infection. If your skin changes color and becomes puffy (swells), painful or oozes a yellow fluid, contact your provider.

How long does molluscum contagiosum last?

A molluscum contagiosum infection can last several months to several years. Treatment decreases how long you’ll have the infection. Without treatment, the infection can go away on its own in six months to one year. For people with compromised immune systems, the condition could take a few years to clear up from your skin.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Visit your healthcare provider if:

  • Your skin becomes painful.
  • The infection spreads throughout your skin to more than one area.
  • Your symptoms prevent you from doing normal activities.
  • Your skin swells and the papules leak a yellow fluid.
  • You have a weakened immune system and you experience symptoms.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • What treatment options do you recommend?
  • Are there side effects to the treatment?
  • Will my symptoms get worse if I have an underlying condition?
  • How often should I apply cream or ointment to my skin to prevent itching?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious infection that easily spreads on your skin and to others with close contact. Take steps to protect yourself by not scratching your skin and by visiting a healthcare provider for treatment. Sanitize frequently used objects or surfaces if someone in your household has the infection and avoid sharing clothing and towels until their infection goes away.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/30/2023.

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