Molluscum Contagiosum is a viral infection caused by a poxvirus commonly occurring among children and characterized by the round painless bumps that can appear anywhere on the skin but tends to be harmless. These bumps range in size but are usually small, raised and white or flesh-colored with a pit in the center. They are also usually smooth and firm which can become itchy, sore and swollen. If scratched, the infection can spread to the surrounding skin. Among adults, it particularly affects those with a weakened immune system and when it involves the genitals, it is considered a sexually transmitted infection. Most of the infected person tends to get around 10 to 20 bumps on their skin and those with a weakened immune system such as AIDS patients can have as many as 100 or more bumps.
How is it contagious?
The virus can spread from one person to another with physical contact through contaminated objects such as sharing of clothing, towels, pool equipment and toys. Although the infection is thought to spread by sharing swimming pools, baths and saunas, it still has not been proven. Also, it is possible to spread the infection by scratching the affected lesion and then touching other parts of the body which is called autoinoculation. Although it can also spread to another person by sexual contact, not all cases in adults are caused by sexual contact. As the virus only continues to live on the top layer of the skin, once the lesions are resolved, it cannot continue to spread like other forms of virus such as herpes which can remain dormant and then reappear.
Signs and Symptoms of the infection
The lesions on the skin are the only indication that a person has molluscum contagiosum. In most cases, the lesions appear 7 weeks after exposure to the virus although sometimes it may not appear for several months. The signs and symptoms of the infection include the bumps that appear;
- Raised, round and are flesh colored
- Have a surface that appears smooth or pearly
- Can become inflamed
- Maybe itchy
- Are usually small, typically under ¼ inch in diameter
- Has a dimple in the center which may be filled with a waxy substance
- Can appear on the face, neck, arms and tops of the hands among children
- If sexually transmitted, it can appear on the genitals, lower abdomen and inner thighs among adults
This condition can be detected by scraping off the infected skin so it can be examined under the microscope. Molluscum usually resolves on its own without the need for treatment in about 6 to 12 months although it is possible to continue to have the lesions for up to five years. In some cases, the lesions can be removed to reduce autoinoculation and to prevent the transmission to others. The lesions can also be treated with chemical agents such as cantharidin, phenol , silver nitrate or iodine. Cryotherapy is another alternative treatment used for the removal of the lesions.