Diagnoses & Conditions

Molluscum Contagiosum

Understanding Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is an infection caused by a poxvirus (molluscum contagiosum virus). Infection usually causes a mild skin disease with lesions (growths) that may appear anywhere on the body. The virus that causes molluscum spreads from direct person-to-person physical contact and through contaminated objects that can become contaminated with virus (for example, clothing, towels, bathing sponges, and toys). Someone with molluscum can spread it to other parts of their body by touching or scratching a lesion and then touching another part of the body. Within 6-12 months, molluscum contagiosum typically resolves without scarring but may take as long as 4 years.

Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum

The lesions, known as mollusca, are small, raised, and usually white, pink, or flesh-colored with a dimple or pit in the center. Lesions are usually smooth and firm. In most people, the lesions range from about the size of a pinhead to as large as a pencil eraser. Lesions may become itchy, sore, red, and/or swollen. Mollusca may occur anywhere on the body including the face, neck, arms, legs, abdomen, and genital area. Lesions are rarely found on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.

Diagnosing Molluscum Contagiosum

Health care providers usually can diagnose molluscum contagiosum just by looking at it. Some providers may take skin scrapings from the lesion and view them under a microscope.

Treatment of Molluscum Contagiosum

Because molluscum contagiosum goes away on its own in healthy people, treatment may be unnecessary. Issues such as lesion visibility and the desire to prevent transmission may prompt therapy. Treatment is usually recommended if lesions are in the genital area (on or near the penis, vulva, vagina, or anus).

Physical removal of lesions may include cryotherapy (freezing the lesion with liquid nitrogen), curettage (the piercing of the core and scraping out the lesion), and laser therapy. These options require a trained health care provider, may require local anesthesia, and can result in pain after the procedure, irritation, and scarring.

Medication therapy includes various medications applied topically to the lesion. Cantharidin (Ycanth®) is the first and only medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat molluscum contagiosum. It is applied topically to lesions by a healthcare provider in a medical setting.


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