Molluscum contagiosum information
Molluscum contagiosum is a mild, viral skin infection that usually affects children between the ages of five and 10. It causes small, shiny lesions on the surface of the skin, most often the trunk, face and extremities.
The lesions can appear singly or in clusters and although they look unsightly, they are not usually troublesome. They usually clear up within a matter of months but sometimes may persist for longer.
What causes molluscum contagiosum?Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus. It spreads easily. It can be passed on by direct contact, in other words touching open lesions of a person who has the condition, or through indirect contact, for instance sharing clothing or towels. It can also be picked up in swimming pools.
The rate of incidence is highest among five to 10-year-olds but anyone, including babies and adults, can catch it. Those children with lowered immunity, for instance after having chemotherapy, are more likely to develop widespread, persistent lesions.
Interestingly, the worldwide incidence of molluscum contagiosum seems to be on the increase although it’s unclear why this is happening.
What are the signs and symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?The incubation period, the time from initial contact to the first lesions appearing, is usually between two and eight weeks. When they begin to show, the lesions start as tiny raised bumps that grow to one to five millimetres across. Sometimes they can be bigger.
The lesions are dome shaped with a central dimple, and can be pearly white or flesh coloured. They contain a white substance that is almost cheese-like in consistency. The lesions are not itchy and it is unusual for them to cause any problems, but occasionally children say they feel tender.
Most children develop between one and 20 lesions, but it’s possible to develop more than 100. Around ten per cent of children also develop an eczema type reaction on the skin around the lesions
Molluscum contagiosum is spread through direct or indirect contact with an open lesion. This makes it important that you wash your hands after touching the molluscum and for a child not to share clothing, or towels used on the infected area.
Children should also be discouraged from scratching the lesions as this can cause the virus to spread and also lead to potential scarring.
How is molluscum contagiosum normally diagnosed?The condition is diagnosed by the appearance of the lesions.
If a lesion becomes red and inflamed, it could indicate infection. If this happens, consult your GP to discuss whether antibiotics are needed.
How is molluscum contagiosum treated?Parents are usually advised to let nature take its course. The lesions will clear up on their own in time.
There are limited treatments available, but these can be very painful and aren’t usually recommended unless a child has a very widespread infection, or has compromised immunity. These include curettage, which involves removing the central core of each lesion, and cryotherapy, which involves applying liquid nitrogen.
If a child develops associated eczema, treatment can help reduce itching and discomfort.
What happens next?The condition generally clears up of its own accord in a matter of months and in the majority of cases within a year.
There’s no reason to keep children off school, or restrict friends coming back to your home, but it’s a good idea to take sensible hygiene precautions.
Last reviewed by Great Ormond Street Hospital: 30 June 2011