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Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection that causes small pearly or flesh-colored bumps. The bumps may be clear, and the center often is indented. The infection is caused by a virus. The virus, called the molluscum virus, produces benign raised lesions, or bumps, on the upper layers of your skin. The virus is easily spread but is not harmful.
Though most common in children, molluscum contagiosum can affect adults as well particularly those with weakened immune systems. In adults, molluscum contagiosum involving the genitals is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Molluscum contagiosum spreads through direct person-to-person contact and through contact with contaminated objects. The bumps associated with molluscum contagiosum usually disappear within a year without treatment but doctor-assisted removal is also an option.
Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum results in raised, round, flesh-colored bumps on the skin. The bumps:
- Are small typically under about a quarter inch (approximately 2 to 5 millimeters) in diameter
- Characteristically have a small indentation or dot at the top
- Can become red and inflamed
- Can be easily removed by scratching or rubbing, which can spread the virus to adjacent skin
In children, the bumps typically appear on the face, neck, armpits, hands and arms. In adults, molluscum contagiosum may be a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and is usually seen on the genitals, lower abdomen, inner upper thighs and buttocks.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will do a physical exam and may take a sample of the bumps for testing. If you have bumps in your genital area, your doctor may check for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as genital herpes.
Causes of Molluscum Contagiosum
The virus that causes molluscum contagiosis spreads easily through:
- Direct skin-to-skin contact
- Contact with contaminated objects, such as toys, towels and faucet handles
- Sexual contact with an affected partner
- Scratching or rubbing the bumps spreads the virus to nearby skin.
How to treat Molluscum Contagiosum
In most cases, molluscum contagiosum doesn’t need to be treated. The bumps usually go away on their own in 6 to 9 months. But in some cases, they may last much longer sometimes even for years.
Doctors usually recommend treatment for these bumps in the genital area to prevent them from spreading.
If you need treatment, your choices may include:
- Freezing the bumps, called cryotherapy or cryosurgery.
- Scraping off the bumps, called curettage.
- Putting a chemical on the bumps, like cantharidin or potassium hydrochloride.
- Using medicines (liquids or creams), such as those used to treat warts.
Children may not need treatment, because molluscum contagiosum usually goes away on its own. But if your child needs treatment, talk to your child’s doctor about how to prevent pain and scarring.