What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that causes either single or multiple raised and skin-colored pearl-like bumps (papules) on the skin. The papules have indentations or dimples in their centers. Molluscum contagiosum is a chronic infection and lesions may persist from a few months to a few years. However, most cases resolve in six to nine months.

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus (molluscum contagiosum virus) that is part of the pox virus family. The virus is contagious (able to be spread from person to person) through direct contact and is more common in children. As children become older, their immune system becomes better at clearing the virus. However, the virus also can be spread by sexual contact and can occur in people with weakened immune systems. The immune system is our body’s own way to fight against infections and diseases. Molluscum contagiosum can spread on a single individual through scratching and rubbing.

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Common locations for the papules are on the faces, trunks and limbs of children. In adults, common locations are the genitals, abdomens, and inner thighs. The condition usually results in papules that:

  • Are generally painless, but can itch.
  • Are small (2 to 5 millimeter diameter). However, people with immunodeficiencies can develop larger lesions.
  • Have a dimple in the center.
  • Are initially firm, dome-shaped, and flesh-colored.
  • Become softer with time.
  • May turn red and drain over time.
  • Have a central core of white, waxy material.

Molluscum contagiosum usually disappears on its own over a period of months to years in people who have normal immune systems. In people who have AIDS or other conditions that affect the immune system, the lesions associated with molluscum contagiosum can be extensive.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/10/2019.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology. Molluscum contagiosum. Accessed 12/2/2019.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Molluscum (Molluscum Contagiosum) Accessed 12/2/2019.
  • Shinkai K, Fox LP. Chapter 6. Dermatologic Disorders. In: Papadakis MA, McPhee SJ, Rabow MW, eds. CURRENT Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2019. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2019.

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