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Despite its striking name, molluscum contagiosum is nothing more than a skin infection that, like warts, is caused by viruses. It is a benign and self-limited condition in time; that is, it finally disappears on its own. It is more frequent in kids than in grown-ups. In the affected area of ​​the skin, such as the face, neck, arms, armpits, abdomen, or legs, some pimples (can be from 1 or 2 to more than 20) of small size, with a pearly appearance, and that may have a depressed center, like a navel. It does not usually cause symptoms beyond some itching or slight discomfort. Children with atopic dermatitis are more likely to suffer from this disease as it spreads through the areas of skin affected by dermatitis..

Molluscum Contagiosum Causes and Symptoms

Photomicrograph of molluscum contagiosum, a viral infection of skin caused by poxvirus, causing small, raised, pink lesions with a dimple in the center.

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection of the skin caused by a poxvirus, and the spread of the infection is caused by:

  • Direct contact with the infected person: For example, when playing, touching, or after sexual intercourse. In the latter case, the lesions are usually located in the genital region.
  • Through contact with shared objects: such as towels, clothing, or toys.

People with atopic dermatitis or any other skin lesion are seen more often with this disease. From the time the infection occurs until the disease develops (incubation period), between 2 and 8 weeks usually elapse, although sometimes several months may elapse.

Molluscum contagiosum produces one or more small lesions, between 2 and 5 mm in diameter, raised, pearly, whitish, pink, or the same color as the flesh, with a small dimple in the center. They can be seen anywhere on the body, (such as the face, neck, arms, hands, etc.,) except on the soles of your feet and palms of the hands, and they usually do not cause annoying symptoms.

In people without problems in their immune system, the lesions disappear on their own after a few months, although sometimes they can even take years. Lesions can be more persistent in the presence of lowered defenses, such as in AIDS patients.

Diagnosis and Contagion

A molluscum contagiosum diagnoses written on a Dr's pad

The diagnosis of Molluscum contagiosum is clinical. A skin biopsy is not usually necessary for diagnosis. Molluscum contagiosum is spread by direct contact with people with the disease or through intermediate objects, such as clothing or toys. Most cases affect a single person in the family group, although contagion by direct skin contact with lesions or contact with utensils such as towels is possible. That is why it is advisable:

  • In the pool: cover injuries with waterproof clothing or bandages; do not share swimming boards and other water toys. Also, avoid, if possible, rubbing with the lanyards.
  • Do not share other people’s towels, clothes, or other individual things.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching or scratching the lesions.

Lesions can disappear spontaneously and without scarring, which is why they are often left untreated. Sometimes, both pediatricians and dermatologists, to avoid autoinoculation and contagion to other people, treat molluscum with little aggressive techniques:

  • A topical medicine (such as for warts): they can apply or recommend that parents apply substances on them
  • Burn them off: usually with cryotherapy (using a very cold substance)
  • Curettage: removing them from the base using a small spoon with sharp edges

The results with any of these techniques are excellent. The prognosis of Molluscum contagiosum is good; it usually disappears on its own and does not affect internal organs.

Treatment

A surgical curette used to carry out curettage procedures

Treatment of molluscum contagiosum is done to prevent new lesions from appearing in other regions of the body, reduce the risk of transmission to other people, and prevent possible complications such as inflammation, itching, and trauma or infection.

There are multiple therapeutic options, which can be classified into:

  • Surgical techniques: (physical destruction by cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen
  • Curettage: manual expression
  • Topical treatments: these produce an inflammatory response at the infected site

The choice of treatment depends on the characteristics of the patient:

  1. The patients’ age
  2. The number and location of the lesions
  3. The presence of other dermatoses or concomitant diseases
  4. The performance of recreational activities
  5. The patient’s preference, etc… 

Other factors that will affect treatment choice are the doctor’s ability, experience, and material resources. Any therapeutic option is useful since, so far, none has proven to be more effective compared to the rest.

Molluscum Contagiosum in Children
Multiple viral skin lesions called Molluscum Contagiosum on a child

Children with molluscum contagiosum should not refrain from attending school, and they can continue to do their usual recreational activities. As prevention, they can cover the injuries with their usual clothes, avoid skin-to-skin contact with other children, and do not share daily hygiene items. To avoid complications such as erosion and subsequent infection of the lesions, scratching of the lesions should be avoided. Remember to consult your pediatrician with any questions about your child’s illness. It mainly affects children under five years of age. However, it can occur in healthy adolescents and adults as a sexually transmitted infection or in connection with contact sports participation. An increase in this disease has been observed in immunosuppressed patients, especially in people infected with HIV, in whom atypical and generalized forms of this infection have been identified.

Bottom Line

Knowing about this viral disease can make us feel calmer when we catch it since it does not produce severe symptoms and is not at all fatal. If you have this condition, follow the recommendations we have given and visit your doctor so that you can give adequate treatment and continue enjoying a full life.

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