Molluscum contagiosum


We provide information and advice about the signs and symptoms, treatments, risks and complications of molluscum contagiosum here – and how to help your child at home with molluscum contagiosum.

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a virus that produces a common skin disease characterised by a skin bump or papule. It can occur in children and adults and is caused by a pox virus called molluscum contagiosum virus (sometimes mistakenly spelt moluscum, molluscom, mulluscum, mollescum, molescum, molloscum). It can look similar to warts or pimples.

The virus is contagious and spreads through direct contact, through using shared items such as towels, through saliva and also via swimming pools. It can be spread easily amongst siblings and is more common in areas with poor, overcrowded living conditions.

It generally appears in children aged 2 – 12 years with a rash characteristic by lingering pink/pearl-like/brown spots that appear on the face, arms and legs and which can last from a few months up to two years; a common duration seems to be 9 months. The virus will eventually clear of its own accord.

Molluscum contagiosum is more common in children with atopic eczema, where it can cause more spots and persist longer. It is also more common in warm, moist tropical climates.

In adults, molluscum contagiosum can be a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In sexually transmitted cases the rash can appear on the genitals, thighs and lower stomach. It is a particular problem for those who are immuno-suppressed (where the immune system is compromised), such as people with AIDS.

The incubation period (when the virus is first contracted until the rash appears) for molluscum contagiosum is from 2 – 8 weeks.

What are the signs and symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

  • Pink/white/brown spots with a wax-like dome
  • Spots around 1 – 6mm in size
  • Spots may be shiny and have a dent in the middle
  • The rash can consist of several hundred spots and may be itchy
  • The rash in children appears on face, neck, chest, armpits, arms, groin, legs, behind the knee, on the back of the hands – in fact anywhere on the body besides palms of hands and soles of feet
  • As the rash begins to clear it may become crusted or scabbed

What is the treatment for molluscum contagiosum?

  • A correct diagnosis needs to be made – see a doctor
  • Because the virus cannot be treated, the rash needs to clear of its own accord
  • Larger and more persistent spots can be removed by freezing or scraping
  • In some cases the white waxy core of the spot can be removed with a sterile needle
  • Sometimes wart-type medication or homeopathic creams may be suggested as a cure, including products such as ZymaDerm or SilverCure.

Risks & complications

  • Scratching will cause the rash or papules to spread.
  • Secondary bacterial infection, particularly in children.
  • Scarring.
  • Some growths may take five years to disappear.
  • May cause dermatitis (inflammation) on the surrounding skin.

What can I do for my child with molluscum contagiosum?

  • Avoid scratching the rash or papules as this may cause infection and scarring
  • Wash hands carefully after touching the rash to prevent transmission
  • Stay out of swimming pools to prevent spread of the rash
  • Teach children not to share towels, clothing and other items to prevent spread
  • Don’t let a child with molluscum contagiosum share a bath or shower with others
  • Keep children clean and get them to wash their hands regularly
  • Keep children out of swimming pools and shared baths to prevent spread
  • Antiseptic swabs may be useful if spots become infected
  • One home remedy that may be successful is taping a cotton ball soaked in cider vinegar on the skin for 24 hours to help remove the lesion
  • Recontact your doctor if the rash spreads, persists or other symptoms appear.

Helpful articles

Click here to read more information on Eczema

Kimberley Paterson

Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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