Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection that is caused by the Molluscum Contagiosum Virus (MC). The skin infection causes small pearly or fleshy coloured lumps; these will often appear clear and the center indented.
The virus is spread by skin to skin contact either through simple touch or through sexual transmission. When it manifests itself in adults it can be classified as a sexually transmitted infection. However, it most commonly occurs in young people aged between 1 and 5.
The main symptoms of molluscum infection is the manifestation of small red or fleshy coloured spots. These are typically quite firm to the touch and will cause irritation. When popped the spots will emit a yellowish pus which is highly infectious. Some of the places that spots will normally appear include:
Most people will typically develop somewhere between 20 to 30 spots. If people have a compromised immune system already then they are susceptible to developing more spots. When the infection is spread through sexual contact the spots can also materialise around the genitals.
The MC infection is characterised by the appearance of papules. These are small raised spots that appear pink or red in colour. They aren’t particularly painful but will typically cause irritation. The spots will typically look like:
Most people who have contacted the MC infection will have it for between 6 to 18 months. This is due to the possibility of new spots appearing while others are clearing up. There have been cases where infections can last years. Although the infection might cause your physical appearance to change, the infection itself isn’t harmful and will clear up on its own.
You can be diagnosed for molluscum contagiosum by your doctor or if you’re an adult at your local sexual health clinic. The spots will be imminently recognisable to a medical professional who will then be able to go through the treatment for MC with you.
Most doctors will leave the spots to heal on their own, although they might not look great they will go away with time. Spot will usually start to heal by crusting over within 2 months. This can lead to a flare up of mild inflammation whilst the spot is healing.
Once spots are healed they typically leave no scar marks, although ones that have been scratched or popped can leave small pitted marks on the skin. The MC infection can be highly contagious so whilst spots are healing they can continue to develop around other parts of the body.
There is no cure or specific treatment for the MC infection in children, it’s important to leave the infection run its course and clear up on its own. The best thing to do is encourage children not to scratch to reduce the chance of scarring. If the symptoms of MC continue to cause your child distress then it’s important to seek medical advice.
When adults catch the infection is commonly through sexual contact and the spots will commonly occur around the genitals. This is why medical practitioners will sometimes classify molluscum contagiosum as an STI when it occurs in adults. There are various molluscum contagiosum treatments available for adults such as:
Although the MC infection is highly contagious, the risk of passing it on to others during normal activities is usually small. It’s not necessary to stay away from work, school or to stop doing day to day activities.
However, there are a number of steps you can take to avoid spreading the virus to other people such as:
MC infections rarely cause any health problems, but there are some complications that molluscum contagiosum can cause. These are usually:
If you’ve been diagnosed with the infection and any of your spots become infected or swollen and if you experience any problems with your eyes, then it’s important to seek medical attention.