Molluscum contagiosum appears as small pearly, skin-colored, wart-like lesions all over the body. It is caused by a common virus and is spread by direct contact with other affected children, or by handling contaminated objects. Molluscum contagiosum is painless and usually harmless; it usually disappears in 6–9 months but could last for a few years. Children who are affected with molluscum contagiosum can spread the rash to other areas of their body by itching or rubbing the lesions.
Who's At Risk
The typical age of children infected by molluscum contagiosum is 1–5, but infants may also be affected. The lesions may be anywhere on the body, but the face, eyelids, neck, armpits, and thighs are most commonly affected. Infants with eczema (dry, itchy skin) may be more severely affected by molluscum contagiosum.
Signs and Symptoms
One or more small (1–5 mm) pink, white, or skin-colored, smooth, dome-shaped bumps, often with a tiny dot or depression in the center, occur in clusters and sometimes in a straight line from scratching and self-introduction (self-inoculation). In patients with an immune system deficiency, bumps can be larger than a nickel.
- Mild molluscum infection – under 10 spots
- Moderate molluscum infection – 10–50 spots
- Severe molluscum infection – over 50 spots
Treatment in mild molluscum infections is often not required, as the infection will eventually go away on its own (is self-limited). In this case, care should be taken not to scratch or shave the areas. Keep the area covered to avoid transmission of the virus, and avoid sharing clothing, towels, and beds with others. Over-the-counter medications used to treat warts (with salicylic acid) may be helpful in removing the bumps, although these treatments can also be irritating.
When to Seek Medical Care
When there is a moderate or severe infection by molluscum and there is a concern of spread or concern about appearance, seek medical care.
Treatments Your Physician May Prescribe
Your doctor might prescribe the following:
- Removal with freezing (cryosurgery), scraping (curettage), burning (electrocautery), or a laser
- Application of chemicals (a strong acid or alkali) or Cantharone (an extract from a blister beetle)
- Prescription of a cream with either tretinoin (derived from vitamin A) or imiquimod (a prescription product also used to treat warts)
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Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine
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