Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a poxvirus that infects only the skin. The virus enters the skin and can spread by touch. The virus usually affects children but can also infect adults. The disease is usually mild and should not be a reason for concern. It can occur anywhere on the skin.
What does it look like?
Molluscum looks like dome-shaped small growths that have a central indentation. They are usually small flesh-colored or pink growths that may become red when they are inflamed. They can be shiny.
How does the virus spread?
The molluscum spread by skin-to-skin contact and are usually found in areas of skin that touch each other such as folds in the arm, underarm, neck, and groin. They can occur isolated or in clusters anywhere on the skin including the chest, abdomen, back, buttocks, and face. Molluscum can spread in three ways. The first way is by rubbing or scratching a growth, then the growth touching an area of skin that is unaffected. Second, it can spread from person to person through direct skin-to-skin contact. Third, it is possible to become infected with the virus by touching an object that has touched infected skin, such as a towel, toy, or any object that has not been cleaned. It is not uncommon for molluscum to be transmitted from a swimming pool or gymnasium mat.
Molluscum and associated eczema on the arm
Who is at risk of infection?
Children tend to become infected with the virus more commonly than adults. It is common for children to play with each other at swimming pools or playgrounds and thus have more direct skin contact with each other. People who play contact sports also have direct skin contact and may become infected. The most typical sport for this is wrestling. Other contact sports include basketball and football. The virus thrives in areas that are warm and humid. People who have had sexual contact may get the infection from direct skin contact. Children with atopic dermatitis are more susceptible to develop molluscum contagiosum.
How can I prevent the spread of molluscum on my body?
The best way to prevent the spread of molluscum is by frequent hand washing and good hygiene. It is important not to pick or scratch the lesions so they don’t spread to other body parts. Personal items should not be shared with people infected with the virus. Clothing, towels, watches, shoes, etc., should not be shared among people who may become infected from each other.
How is molluscum treated?
Many dermatologists advise treating molluscum to prevent the spread and catch the disease in it’s early phase before spreading. Molluscum may resolve without a scar but there may be a small pink or chicken-pox like scar left after treatment. It can take many months for the lesions to resolve on their own. Treatment will prevent the spread from one person to another and from one body part to another area on the skin. The diagnosis is usually made without a skin biopsy because dermatologists can usually identify the virus from its appearance. Though we do not use all of them, there are many treatment options. We try to find the best treatment method for each patient. Treatment options include applying creams at home to eliminate the virus, hoping to negate the need for a surgical procedure in the office. Office procedures that are performed in the office include cryosurgery using liquid nitrogen, destroying the virus with certain acids or blistering solutions, treating with an electric needle (electrocautery), or scraping the growths off with a sharp instrument called a currette. All of these procedures can be performed in our office. If there are numerous growths, then the patient may have to return to the office monthly until all of the lesions disappear. During treatment, new growths may form as others fade. This is normal.