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Show full transcript for Molluscum Contagiosum video

In this lesson, we'll be diving into molluscum contagiosum, a condition most of you are probably not familiar with in the slightest. We'll predictability provide information on what it is, who's most at risk, how it's transmitted, the signs and symptoms, how it's diagnosed, as well as treatment options and prevention strategies.

Molluscum is an infection caused by a poxvirus (molluscum contagiosum virus) that usually results in a benign, mild skin disease with lesions that can appear anywhere on the body. The good news is that molluscum is self-resolving, which means it typically goes away on its own.

Lesions are small, raised, and usually white, pink, or flesh colored. They have a dimple or pit in the center, are smooth and firm, and can range in size from 2-5mm, or about the size of a pinhead to the size of a pencil eraser.

Mollusca can appear alone or in groups and can occur anywhere on the body, including the face, neck, arms, legs, abdomen, and genitals. However, they are rarely found on the palms and soles of the feet.

Who is Most at Risk?

Molluscum is most common in, but not limited to, children between the ages of one and 10 years of age. People with weakened immune systems (HIV, cancer) are also at risk, and the growths for these individuals may be larger and more difficult to treat.

People with atopic dermatitis are also at risk, due to breaks in the skin, as are people who live in warm, humid climates with crowded living conditions.

How is Molluscum Transmitted?

There are a few ways that molluscum is transmitted including:

  • Person to person contact, including sexual contact
  • By touching contaminated objects
  • Shaving and electrolysis

Pro Tip #1: Molluscum is easily spread to other areas of the body by touching or scratching lesions then touching somewhere else, which is known as autoinoculation.

The virus remains on the top layer of skin (epidermis) and does not circulate throughout the body. Once lesions are gone, so too is the virus. And when that happens, it cannot be spread to others.

The incubation period for molluscum is from two weeks to six months.

Signs and Symptoms of Molluscum

Molluscum appears as a small, pearly-white bump on the skin with a central depression, possibly secreting a white cheesy substance. Lesions are between 2-5mm, usually painless and may become inflamed, red, and swollen.

These bumps will usually disappear spontaneously within six to 12 months but could linger for up to four years. Most cases involve children over the age of one, and there is only one known case of an infant becoming infected.

How is Molluscum Diagnosed?

Lesions are classified in one of three ways:

  1. Lesions that are found on the face, trunk, and limbs of a child.
  2. Sexually transmitted lesions on the abdomen, inner thighs, and genitals of sexually active adults.
  3. Diffuse, recalcitrant eruptions on people with AIDS and other immunosuppressive disorders.

The period of communicability is unknown but likely lasts as long as lesions persist.

Molluscum Treatment Options

Because molluscum is self-limiting in healthy people, treatment is usually not necessary. However, issues such as lesion visibility, underlying atopic diseases, and the desire to prevent transmission may prompt treatment. And treatment is usually recommended if lesions are in the genital area.

Treatment consists of medications or physical removal by the following means:

  • Cryotherapy – freezing with liquid nitrogen
  • Cutting, scraping, or scooping
  • Laser therapy

Pro Tip #2: Under the heading of don't try this at home, physical removal requires a trained healthcare provider. Anesthesia may be required, and removal can result in pain, irritation, and scarring.

Oral cimetidine (medication) is an alternative treatment for small children who are afraid of the pain associated with removal or because of the avoidance of scarring. It should be noted that facial Mollusca don't respond as well to this treatment as do lesions elsewhere on the body.

Prevention of Molluscum

The best way to prevent molluscum is to follow good hygiene habits. The virus only lives on the skin. Once lesions are gone, the virus is gone and cannot be spread to others.

Handwashing is the best line of defense, as it removes the germs that may have been picked up from other people or surfaces with germs on them.

Pro Tip #3: Do not touch, scratch, or pick at lesions. Doing so can spread the virus to other parts of the body and other people who come in contact with you. It's also important to keep lesions clean and covered at all times, and it's a good idea to keep them dry as well.

Be especially careful during sporting activities, like taking part in contact sports like football, wrestling, and basketball. And don't share equipment like towels, clothing, swimsuits, baseball gloves, helmets, and personal items like hairbrushes, wrist watches, and bar soap if you have an infection.

If you have lesions around the genitals – penis, vulva, vagina, and anus – avoid sexual contact until after seeing a healthcare provider.