Molluscum Contagiosum: Detection and Treatment
A common skin disease, molluscum contagiosum is caused by a poxvirus that infects only the skin. This virus enters the skin through small breaks in the skin barrier. After an incubation period, growths appear. These growths can develop anywhere on the skin.
Like warts, which are caused by a different virus, molluscum contagiosum is considered benign. Molluscum contagiosum does not affect any internal organs and rarely causes symptoms. As the name implies, molluscum contagiosum is contagious.
For these reasons, we recommend making an appointment with a Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner as soon as you spot the growths.
What Molluscum Contagiosum Looks Like
- Small in diameter: 2-5 millimeters
- Flesh-colored or pink
- Dome-shaped with a dimple in the center or a white core
- Becomes red or inflamed, which is a sign that your immune system is fighting it
- Smooth and firm
Mollusca can become itchy, swollen, or sore, but these symptoms are less common.
Since the condition spreads with skin-to-skin contact, it makes sense that the growths are usually found in areas of skin that touch each other, such as the folds in the arm or groin. They can also be found in clusters or rows on the chest, abdomen, buttocks, face, and eyelids.
The number of growths ranges from person to person, but in general, an outbreak of 10-20 is considered the average. However, those with a weakened immune system may see 100 or more, and the bumps are generally larger. These people have a tougher time ridding themselves of the virus, even with supervised treatment.
How Molluscum Contagiosum Spreads
The virus spreads in three ways:
- A person who has molluscum contagiosum can spread the virus to other parts of the body. This may happen by rubbing or scratching a growth and then touching unaffected skin.
- Molluscum contagiosum also spreads from person to person through direct skin-to-skin contact.
- It is also possible to get the disease by coming into contact with an object that has touched infected skin such as a towel, toy, or clothing. There have been reports of people contracting molluscum contagiosum from a swimming pool or gymnastic mat.
Those Most at Risk
Children tend to get molluscum contagiosum more often than adults. It is common in young children who have not yet developed immunity to the virus. Children also tend to have more direct skin-to-skin contact with others.
Anyone who is exposed to the virus through skin-to-skin contact has an increased risk of developing molluscum contagiosum. This may happen by participating in a close contact sport such as wrestling or having sexual contact with an infected person.
Living in a tropical area also increases the risk. The virus thrives in areas that are warm and humid. Certain medical conditions also make a person more susceptible. People who have atopic dermatitis or a disease that weakens the immune system are more likely to develop molluscum contagiosum.
Molluscum Contagiosum Treatment Options
While molluscum contagiosum will eventually go away on its own without leaving a scar, many dermatologists advise treating. Treatment can prevent the growths from spreading to other areas of a patient’s body and to other people.
Before treatment begins, a Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner may confirm that the growths are mollusca by scraping an area of infected skin and looking at the cells under a microscope. If molluscum contagiosum is present, there are a number of treatment options.
Treatment for mollusca is similar to that for warts. Growths can be:
- Frozen with liquid nitrogen
- Destroyed with various acids or blistering solutions
- Treated with an electric needle (electrocautery) and scraped off with a sharp instrument (curette)
Laser therapy also has been effective in treating mollusca.
All of these treatments can be performed in a Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner’s office. If there are many growths, treatment sessions may be needed every three to six weeks until the growths disappear. Some discomfort is associated with these treatments.
Sometimes an at-home treatment is prescribed. These treatments include applying a topical retinoid, topical immune modifier, or other topical antiviral medication.
During treatment, some growths may appear as others are fading. This is normal.
An option, especially with young children, is not to treat molluscum and wait for the growths to disappear. This avoids exposure to possible side effects from treatment. However, if you notice rapid growth of new lesions, you should consult a Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner. It is always possible for a person’s skin to get infected with the virus again. The condition may be easier to control if treatment is started early, when there are only a few growths.