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Molluscum Contagiosum - Pictures, Symptoms, Treatment, Causes

Updated on January 9, 2014


What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum Contagiosum is a viral infection that affects only the outer layer of the skin or the epithelial layer of the skin. It is a benign viral infection that mostly affects children from age 1 to 10 years old but can also affect adults especially those who are sexually active and immunodeficient.

Molluscum Contagiosum is common all over the world although the spread is common among the areas with warm climate and usually harbored through close and casual contacts among children. The prevalence in young adults is implicated on sexual contacts and poor hygiene. Although common in children, it rarely occurs in children below the age of 1 year. It is also more common among whites and prevalent in male than in women.

The incidence of Molluscum Contagiosum was first described in the year 1817 and the infectious characteristic was revealed in 1841 by Paterson. The viral characteristic of the disease was proven by Juliusburg in 1905. The virus causing Molluscum Contagiosum has been identified into four types classified as MC I to MC IV. MC I is the most common type causing the disease among children while MC II is mostly seen in adults while both MC III and MC IV rarely occurs.

Molluscum Contagiosum is generally harmless although the disease can cause significant discomfort due to itchiness, swelling and soreness. The disease usually resolves without leaving any scar and without the need for treatment. Molluscum Contagiosum generally has an excellent prognosis as the disease is benign and self-limited although the lesions may continue to linger for 5 years. The disease on the other hand may cause anxiety and affect the quality of life as the lesion can be disfiguring and especially if the lesion develops in the area of the face. Morbidity is usually related to cosmetic aspect while no mortality has been openly linked with Molluscum Contagiosum. Recurrence has been reported although no definite etiology has been identified to the recurrence and thought to be the result of reinfection.


Molluscum Contagiosum can appear on any part of the body although it commonly develops in the skin of the trunk, arms, legs and groin, neck and face. The lesion can also be found on the lower abdomen, inner thighs, buttocks and genitals if the Molluscum Contagiosum is sexually transmitted.

Molluscum Contagiosum is characterized as dome-shaped lesion with white and pinkish or fleshy colored bumps that are raised. The size of the lesion is about 2mm to 5mm in diameter and seldom grows in size as big as 1.5cm in giant lesion. It is a waxy papule that contains a dimple in the center. Molluscum Contagiosum is generally pearly in appearance and the core of the central papule holds the virus. It can occur as a singular lesion or may form a cluster although the papule is generally painless but may itch, swell and sore. The lesion is potential for bacterial infection when pricked or scratched due to itchiness and the dimple of the molluscus may also bleed.

The incubation period of the virus causing the Molluscum Contagiosum takes two to seven weeks after which a rash of tiny papule appears and is the initial symptom of the disease. The rash on its initial onset is characterized with pearly or flesh colored papule that is smooth in texture and assumes a dome shape. This lesion later becomes soft and distended and with white curd in the center which can be squeezed. The border of the lesion may have redness or scaling that may result from inflammation or itchiness. The lesion may also be localized in the skin or in the mucus membrane or can also spread widely and grouped in one or two. The mouth, palms of the hands and soles of the feet are generally spared from the rash.

Molluscum Contagiosum is normally asymptomatic that a general symptom of weakness, fever and nausea are not exhibited. Widespread and disfiguring lesions are potential to develop in the face, trunk and neck of individuals who are immunodeficient. The lesions may also come together to form a giant lesion that may have a diameter of as big as 3cm. The distribution of the lesion depends on the method of infection and the temperature of the environment.


Molluscum Contagiosum is a viral infection and is sometimes referred to as water wart. The virus causing the disease is a member of Poxvirus family and is called Molluscum contagiosum virus. It is a virus that thrives in warm and humid climate and where the inhabitants live closely together. A small break in the skin is the usual point of entry for the virus then incubates for a period of 2 to seven weeks before the outbreak of the rash. The virus is known to infect only human and can be spread through direct contact.

The spread of the lesions in the body is potentially when an affected individual touches the infected site then touches another part of the body. Children are mostly affected with Molluscum Contagiosum where they can get the virus through many different ways. Close and casual contact is the common method of transmitting the disease among children while sexual contact is the mode of transmission among adults.

The Molluscum Contagiosum can be spread easily and can be passed on from person to person through different methods. Children for example can get or pass the disease through sharing toys which is usual in day care and in school. Adult individuals can get the virus through sexual contact with an infected person.

Settings where possible outbreak of Molluscum Contagiosum may occur include the following:

  • Playground
  • Day care centers or schools
  • Swimming pools

Another mode of transmission includes:

  • Sharing of personal things such as toiletries and other bath essentials
  • Contact sports such as in wrestling match
  • Touching of surfaces contaminated with the virus


Treatment of Molluscum Contagiosum is not necessary as the disease usually resolves on its own and usually do not leave any scars except when the lesion is infected by a bacteria or other pathogens.

Molluscum Contagiosum usually disappear in a matter of 6 to 12 months without necessary treatment although some health practitioners usually prescribe treatment to prevent the disease from spreading any further and to prevent passing the disease to others. Treatments on the other hand can be recommended to relieve the discomfort.

Scraping is the most common method of treatment and is usually done with curettage. Cautery and cryotherapy may also be utilized to surgically remove the lesions. The lesions can also be dissolved by the use of irritating products such as salicylic acid.


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