Molluscum contagiosum 

Introduction 

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that causes raised spots to develop on the skin 

Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a viral infection that affects the skin. It most commonly affects children, although it can occur at any age.

Usually, the only symptom of MC is a number of small, firm, raised papules (spots) that develop on the skin. They are not painful, but can be itchy.

Although the spots can look unpleasant, MC is generally a harmless condition that will normally resolve in a few months without any specific treatment.

Read more about the symptoms of MC.

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.

Read more about diagnosing MC.

What causes MC?

MC is caused by a virus known as the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV).

This virus can be spread through:

  • close direct contact – such as touching the skin of an infected person
  • touching contaminated objects – such as towels, flannels, toys and clothes
  • sexual contact  this includes intimate physical contact as well as sexual intercourse

If you become infected by the virus and spots appear on your skin, the virus can also spread to other areas.

It is not known exactly how long someone with MC is contagious for, but it is thought the contagious period may last up until the last spot has completely healed.

Who is affected

MC can affect anyone at any age, but the condition is most common in young children  particularly those aged between one and five.

It is also more common in people with a weakened immune system  either due to a condition such as HIV or a treatment such as chemotherapy.

MC can affect a person on more than one occasion, but this is uncommon.

How MC is treated

In people who are otherwise healthy, individual spots usually clear up within two months. However, it is common for the condition to spread around the body, so it can take up to 18 months or more for the condition to resolve completely.

Routine treatment for MC, particularly in children, is generally not recommended because:

  • the infection usually clears up on its own
  • the infection does not normally cause any symptoms other than the spots
  • the infection does not usually interfere with everyday activities, such as going to work, swimming or playing sports 
  • treatments can be painful and may cause scarring or damage to the surrounding skin

Treatment is usually only recommended for older children and adults when the spots are particularly unsightly and affect quality of life, or for people with weakened immune systems.

In such cases, treatments that may be offered include liquids, gels or creams that are applied directly to the skin, or minor procedures such as cryotherapy (where the spots are removed by freezing them).

In rare cases, the spots can become infected with bacteria, and occasionally the condition can lead to an eye infection, such as conjunctivitis. These complications may need additional treatment with antibiotics to clear the infection.

Read more about treating MC and the complications of MC.

Preventing MC

Although MC is infectious, the chance of passing it on to others during normal activities is small.

It is therefore not necessary to stay away from work, school or nursery, or to stop doing activities such as swimming if you have MC.

However, you should take some steps to avoid spreading the virus to other people. You should:

  • avoid squeezing or scratching the spots  as well as increasing the risk of the infection spreading, this can cause pain, bleeding and can lead to scarring
  • keep affected areas of skin covered with clothing whenever possible  a waterproof bandage can be put over the area if you go swimming
  • avoid sharing towels, flannels and clothing
  • avoid sharing baths 

Using a condom while having sex can reduce the risk of passing on MC during sexual contact, although this cannot prevent the spread of the virus completely, because it can be passed to nearby areas of skin that are not covered by a condom.

Page last reviewed: 01/10/2014

Next review due: 01/10/2016

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Comments

The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Beren said on 21 August 2014

I've had these spots for over six years now! I've had all the various treatments, all to no avail. I've seen three dermatologists, who all say that the spots will eventually go away, but they can't say when.

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meganily said on 17 January 2014

Hi, I am 14 years old and have had MC for over a year now, and I have also had eczema for about 9 years. The spots have just started to go away, but they seem to bleed heavily without being picked. The ones that are gone have made medium-sized scars. I was wondering whether:
1) There was a cream or gel etc that I could use to get rid of the scars
2) There was a way to get rid of the remaining ones without treatments cryotherapy or heat lasers (because you have to be over 15 to do them)
Any help/advice would be great!
Thanks!

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Wizzy0012 said on 24 August 2013

My 3 three old recently had this. It started with a small skin coloured spot on her neck which I though was a mole then more appeared on her neck and I though they were skin tags. The GP knew immediately it was MC which I had never heard off. He said it was classic MC and not to worry they wouldclear up after 12 - 18 months on there own and it was best to leave them to run their course. I wasn't happy to leave it and worried about them spreading further as isolated ones appeared on back of leg and shoulder. I applied tea tree oil to each one using separate clean piece of cotton wool and at bed time covered each one with a small piece of micropore tape folding over to make a tab at the end so they could be removed quicjly and easily (the tabs are important as without them its hard to remove the tape and caused my daughter some distress but with the tabs no problem and she could remove them herself). I would not use duct tape which I saw recommended. It only took 2 weeks and the MC has gone leaving a couple of small fading red marks.

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Schnicks said on 24 March 2013

To harasB - thank you so much for your tip - I have been reading about this and my 8 yr old has had it for around 2 years now. I have been getting worried as most information suggests it should clear up on its own within 18 months. I am definitely going to try some supplements to see if it helps. I'll let you know how we get on! Thanks again!

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harasB said on 19 September 2012

Our 4 year old has had this since a couple of months old, spreading slowly and becoming very red, sore and unsightly on the inside arms, back and knees. Doctors said it would clear up naturally but it was proghressively getting worse. Did some research on viral diseases and the immune system. Although our daughter has a very good, healthy diet we introduced a zinc, vitamin C supplement and also a fish oil supplement. Literally within days the spots had dried up. Redness stopped and no new spots appeared. We have kept up the supplements and the skin is healing and now just has a few scars. You would not know she had MC at all. Thought I'd share this as it may help others.

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eja007 said on 19 August 2011

My 5 year old has had MC for well over a year now and the spots are aroun his gential area and often become infected. He swims every Monday and I think i should stop him siwmming or at least maybe get him to wear one of the sun protection suits until it goes away as he could be getting inffected or infecting others. Is this correct?

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