Molluscum Contagiosum (MMC) is a skin infection from a virus that causes benign raised bumps on the upper layers of the skin. The bumps are painless and disappear on their own. However, they can take as long as four years to disappear. Molluscum are spread by direct contact with the lesion of an infected person or by contact with a contaminated object such as towels, shared sports equipment, wrestling mats.
There are many kinds of skin conditions, but none may be as misunderstood as molluscum contagiosum. Molluscum contagiosum is a childhood virus that causes benign, small, round, firm bumps all over the skin. Though the rash produced by the virus may be alarming, here are some important things to know.
What Is Molluscum Contagiosum?
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection caused by the Poxvirus, and actually in the same family as smallpox. It’s considered a common childhood disease but can also occur in healthy adolescents and adults, often as a participation in contact sports or sharing sports equipment. The virus causes a chronic, localized infection, consisting of flesh-colored, dome-shaped bumps on the skin of an infected individual. These virus stays in the body different amounts of time for different people, but the bumps can last for months or years.
Molluscum Contagiosum Causes
Molluscum contagiosum is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact and can occur anywhere on the body. The virus can be transmitted from one part of the body to another by scratching or touching a bump. For example, if the bumps develop on your face, shaving may spread the virus. Infection can also be spread on bath sponges or towels or through skin contact, during participation in contact sports, for instance. If you or your child has been in contact with the virus it can take from two to seven weeks before you may see symptoms.
In adults, MMC is considered a sexually transmitted disease, and appears in areas of close skin contact during sex. Again, although not dangerous to health, most adults choose to treat the lesions because of cosmetic and social concerns. Athletes, especially wrestlers, may be required to treat MMC because it is a transmissible viral infection.
Molluscum Contagiosum Treatment
There is some controversy regarding whether to treat or not. For some individuals, the virus will clear on it’s own over time but for others it does not. The bumps caused by molluscum contagium can be disfiguring and embarrassing and the lesions can become infected and tender, and can lead to abscess formation. Anybody with a lowered immune system can get very large lesions or lesions numbering in the hundreds. Children with atopic dermatitis can also be plagued with numerous lesions as well as a worsening of their dermatitis and risk of infection and scarring.
Treatment is usually carried out with a chemical called cantharidin or in some cases by freezing the area with liquid nitrogen. Treatment is usually necessary if you have the following:
- Large lesions
- Lesions located on the face and neck
- A lowered immune system
- Higher risk for infection or scarring
- An existing skin disease such as atopic dermatitis
- Serious concerns about spreading the virus such as between playmates and siblings
How to Prevent the Spread of Molluscum Contagiosum
- Avoid touching the skin of a person who has the infection
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
- Avoid sharing personal items such as soaps or towels, as well as shared sports equipment that may have been in contact with the bare skin of teammates
- Avoid picking at or touching areas of your skin where you have the bumps
- Clean the infected skin regularly and cover it to prevent yourself and others from touching and spreading the virus
- Avoid shaving or using electrolysis in areas where the bumps are present
- Avoid sexual contact if you have bumps in the genital area
A successful treatment of the virus includes limiting it from spreading to other sites on the body, reducing the risk of transmission to others, stopping severe itching and the prevention of scarring that can result from bumps that become inflamed, traumatized, or secondarily infected.
Once the lesions fade, the Molluscum virus is no longer present, and you can no longer spread the virus to other people or other parts of your body. Unfortunately, unlike chicken pox, you are not protected against getting a new infection. If you encounter the virus again you can get the lesions again.
A word of caution. We often see patients who attempt to treat molluscum at home using herbal solutions or remedies offered online only to find that it has worsened their skin. The CDC also warns against self-treatment of molluscum without the advice of a healthcare provider
If the bumps last longer than a few days, are worsening or irritating, an appointment with a Dermatologist should be made. At Advanced Specialty Care, Dermatologists Dr. Ken Egan, Sarah Tullo, APRN and Dr. Rand Werbitt, offer pediatric and adult dermatology appointments in any of our Fairfield County Connecticut offices in Danbury, Norwalk, Ridgefield and Stamford.