Molluscum contagiosum 

Introduction 

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

How common is molluscum contagiosum?

It is difficult to know exactly how common molluscum contagiosum (MC) is in children because it is not classed as a notifiable disease.

Unlike some childhood infections, such as measles, GPs do not have to report cases of MC to the authorities.

It is thought that many adults with MC are reluctant to report their symptoms to their GP or local sexual health clinic due to the condition's association with sexual activity.

Figures from America and Switzerland suggest that MC is responsible for around 1 in every 100 diagnosed skin disorders. It is likely that figures are similar in England.

Infectious illnesses in children

Symptoms to look out for if you're concerned your child may have an infectious illness

Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a viral infection that affects the skin. It is highly contagious and easily spread.

MC most commonly affects children and young adults, 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 may be itchy.

Read more about the spots of molluscum contagiosum.

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

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

Although MC is highly contagious, most people are resistant to the virus. This means they are unlikely to develop the condition if they are exposed to the virus.

MC can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who is infected, or it can be passed on by touching contaminated objects, such as a flannel or towel.

Children can catch MC after coming into close physical contact with another child who is infected, such as while play-fighting or hugging.

Adults can catch MC after having close physical contact with an infected person, such as sexual contact (this doesn't necessarily have to be sexual intercourse).

Read more about how molluscum contagiosum is spread.

At-risk groups

There are three main groups of people who tend to be affected by MC. They are:

  • young children who are one to five years of age 
  • people who have had a number of different sexual partners
  • people with a weakened immune system, either due to having a condition such as HIV or AIDs, or from receiving treatment such as chemotherapy

Diagnosing molluscum contagiosum

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.

However, if your GP is not sure whether MCV is responsible, they may want to carry out some tests. For example, they may take a small sample from the centre of one of the spots to test it for MCV.

Read more about how molluscum contagiosum is diagnosed.

Treating molluscum contagiosum

In people who are otherwise healthy, MC usually clears up on its own after 12-18 months. However, in people who are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system), MC can last much longer.

Routine treatment for MC, particularly in children, does not tend to be recommended because:

  • the infection usually clears up on its own
  • the infection does not usually 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 
  • many treatments can be painful and may cause scarring or burn the surrounding skin

Treatment is usually only recommended for older children and adults in cases where the spots are particularly unsightly and affect quality of life.

Do not squeeze the spots because it can cause pain, bleeding and an increased risk of spreading the infection. It is also likely to cause scarring.

Read more about treating molluscum contagiosum.

Complications of molluscum contagiosum

MC doesn't usually cause complications and the infection will eventually clear up on its own.

However, in rare cases, the spots can become infected with bacteria. This is more likely to happen if you have atopic eczema (skin irritation caused by an allergy), or if you have a weakened immune system.

If the spots do become infected, you or your child will need treatment with antibiotics.

In rare cases, where spots occur around the eyes, a secondary eye infection may develop, such as conjunctivitis.

Read more about the complications of molluscum contagiosum.

Preventing molluscum contagiosum

Although MC is highly infectious, most people are resistant to the virus and are unlikely to develop MC, even if they come into contact with the virus.

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

However, while the risk of passing MC on to others is small, you should take steps to avoid spreading the virus on to people who are not resistant to it.

If you or your child has MC you should:

  • keep affected areas of skin covered with clothing
  • avoid sharing towels, flannels and clothing
  • avoid sharing baths
  • do not scratch the spots because it may lead to other areas of your skin becoming infected and it can prolong the infection

Always use a condom while having sex. However, condoms cannot prevent the spread of the MC virus completely.

The virus can be passed to areas of your skin that are not covered by a condom, such as the areas around your genitals and inner thighs.




Page last reviewed: 24/09/2012

Next review due: 24/09/2014

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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

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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