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Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a pox virus that causes bumps on the skin. Molluscum is easily spread by skin-to-skin contact, but it is not harmful. In healthy people, the bumps will usually go away on their own within six months. There are treatments available if needed.

Molluscum contagiosum is most common among children under 10 years of age. In adults, molluscum is most commonly passed through sexual contact.

The infection can be more severe in people with a weaker immune system (e.g., individuals with HIV infection). Molluscum is more common in places where the climate is warm and humid.

Causes

The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact, sexual contact, or scratching or shaving the bumps. It can also live on clothing, towels or surfaces such as toys.

Symptoms

Bumps are painless and can appear anytime from two weeks to six months after contact with the virus. Molluscum begins as a small bump, which gets larger over several weeks to become firm, waxy, pinkish-white and raised with a small crater in the centre.

In children, molluscum may appear on the face, body, legs and arms. In adults, molluscum can occur almost anywhere on the body. If the viral infection is passed through sexual contact, bumps are usually found on the abdomen, groin, genitals, buttocks or thighs. 

Complications

Sometimes the bumps can become irritated, red and infected. If this happens, see a health care provider to find out if you need antibiotics to prevent scarring. In some people with serious immune problems, molluscum may appear on the face and increase in number, even with treatment. 

Tests and Diagnosis

Molluscum contagiosum is usually diagnosed when you see bumps or during a physical exam. Sometimes your health care provider may take a sample of the bump. If an adult has bumps in the genital area, the health care provider may check for other sexually transmitted infections.

Treatment

Molluscum usually goes away in six months (or longer) without treatment. In some cases, bumps may persist for years. When the molluscum cannot be seen, then the virus is no longer on the skin and cannot be passed. You can cover bumps with bandages or clothing to lower the chances of passing the virus to others.

A health care provider may use any of these treatments:

  • Freezing the bump with liquid nitrogen
  • Removing the waxy material in the centre of the bump 
  • Applying medication to the bumps 
  • Taking medication by mouth

Resources

BC Centre for Disease Control – Molluscum contagiosum
HealthLink BC – Molluscum contagiosum
 

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