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Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum Overview

Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a common skin infection caused by a virus. It occurs worldwide and primarily affects children and young adults. The skin lesions characteristically appear as raised, rounded bumps that are white, pink, or flesh-colored. Transmission of the virus occurs by direct person-to-person contact or via contact with infected objects. It is frequently diagnosed by a health-care provider based on its characteristic appearance, although testing may be needed in cases of uncertainty. MC is a benign, self-limited infection in healthy individuals, and treatment is not always required. However, certain people (for example, those with weakened immune systems) frequently require treatment as the skin lesions may be more persistent and widespread. Maintaining good personal hygiene and avoiding direct contact with infected individuals can help prevent this viral skin infection. MC generally carries an excellent prognosis.

Molluscum Contagiosum Causes

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV), a member of the poxvirus family. Four types (I-IV) of molluscum contagiosum virus have been identified, with MCV-I being the most common cause of infection. Humans are the only known reservoir for this virus. The development of the skin lesions after the initial exposure (incubation period) is thought to occur anytime after two weeks to six months. The molluscum contagiosum virus occurs worldwide, but it is more common in developing countries, especially those in the tropics. It is estimated to account for 1% of all skin disorders diagnosed in the United States. Molluscum contagiosum infection is most common in children and young adults, with males being affected more commonly than females. It is most common in children 1 to 10 years of age. Individuals with weakened immune systems (immunocompromised), such as those with AIDS, also have a higher incidence of infection. Atopic dermatitis is also thought to be a risk factor for the development of molluscum contagiosum.

Molluscum contagiosum is transmitted by either direct person-to-person contact or through contact with contaminated objects, such as shared clothing, towels, washcloths, and toys. This route of transmission is most common in children. In adults, molluscum contagiosum is often acquired through sexual contact. Molluscum contagiosum has also been reported to spread between individuals using the same gym equipment. Furthermore, if an infected person touches the lesions and then touches another part of his or her body, it can cause spread to that area (known as autoinoculation). If the face is involved, shaving may cause it to spread. Molluscum contagiosum is thought to be contagious until all of the lesions have disappeared.

Outbreaks have been reported in

  • swimming pools, saunas, and steam baths,
  • wrestling matches,
  • during surgery, by a surgeon with a hand lesion (sore),
  • getting tattoos (rare).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2013

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Descriptions of molluscum contagiosum have been in the medical literature since 1817.

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