Symptoms of molluscum contagiosum 

The main symptom of molluscum contagiosum (MC) is the development of a number of small spots on the skin.

The spots are usually firm and dome-shaped, with a small dimple in the middle. They are usually less than 5mm (0.5cm) across, but can sometimes be bigger.

They are typically pink or red, although they may have a tiny white or yellow head in the centre. If this head ruptures (splits), a thick yellowy-white substance will be released, which is highly infectious.

It's important not to squeeze the spots, as this will increase the risk of the infection spreading to other parts of the body.

The spots associated with MC are usually painless, although they can sometimes be itchy and some people develop areas of red, dry and cracked skin around them.

Most people will have between 20 and 30 spots, although people with a weakened immune system often have more. The spots may develop in small clusters and can be spread across different parts of the body.

Common parts of the body affected by MC include the:

  • face
  • neck
  • trunk (torso)
  • limbs

In a few cases, particularly when it is spread during sexual contact, spots can develop on the genitals and nearby skin.

How the condition progresses

In many cases, the individual spots will start to crust over and heal within two months. Some people may experience mild swelling and redness around each spot as it begins to heal.

The spots do not usually leave scars, but they may leave a small area of lighter skin or a tiny pitted mark.

As the virus that causes MC can spread to other parts of the body, new spots may develop as the old ones are healing. This can result in an episode of MC lasting for quite a long time.

Most cases clear up within around 6-18 months, but the condition can, occasionally, persist for several years.

When to seek medical advice

Visit your GP if you think you or your child may have MC. Your GP will examine your skin (or your child's) and ask about any other symptoms.

The spots of MC are usually easy to recognise, so your GP should be able to diagnose the condition without the need for further tests.

Your GP can advise you about whether any treatment is appropriate, and what steps you can take to reduce the risk of the infection spreading to other people.

Read more about diagnosing MC.

Molluscum contagiosum spots are usually firm and dome-shaped with a small dimple in the middle 

Page last reviewed: 01/10/2014

Next review due: 01/10/2016