An Overview of Molluscum Contagiosum
Typical molluscum bumps.
Image courtesy L. Sperling, MD, Walter
Reed Army Medical Center
View large image >Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin disease that is caused by a virus. The disease is generally mild and should not be a reason for concern or worry.
Molluscum infection causes small white, pink, or flesh-colored bumps or growths with a dimple or pit in the center. The bumps are usually smooth and firm and can appear anywhere on the body. They may become sore, red, and swollen but are usually painless. The bumps normally disappear within 6 to 12 months without treatment and without leaving scars. In people with weakened immune systems, molluscum growths may grow very large, spread more easily to other parts of the body and may be harder to cure.
How It Spreads
People with this skin disease can cause the bumps to spread to different parts of their body. This is called autoinoculation. Such spread can occur by touching or scratching a bump and then touching another part of the body.
The virus can also be spread from person to person. This can happen if the growths on one person are touched by another person. It can also happen if the virus gets on an object that is touched by other people. Examples of such objects are towels, clothing, and toys. Molluscum can also be spread from one person to another by sexual contact. Anyone who develops bumps in the genital area (on or near the penis, vulva, vagina, or anus) should see a health care provider. Bumps in these areas sometimes mean that molluscum or some other disease was spread through sexual contact.
How to Prevent the Spread of Molluscum
Wash Your Hands
There are ways to prevent the spread of molluscum contagiosum. The best way is to follow good hygiene (cleanliness) habits. Keeping your hands clean is the best way to avoid molluscum infection, as well as many other infections. Hand washing removes germs that may have been picked up from other people or from surfaces that have germs on them. See the Clean Hands Saves Lives sitelet at http://www.cdc.gov/cleanhands.
Don't Scratch or Pick at Molluscum Bumps
It is important not to touch, pick, or scratch skin that has bumps or blisters...that includes not only your own skin but anyone else's. Picking and scratching can spread the virus to other parts of the body and makes it easier to spread the disease to other people too.
Keep Molluscum Bumps Covered
It is important to keep the area with molluscum growths clean and covered with clothing or a bandage so that others do not touch the bumps and become infected with molluscum. Do remember to keep the affected skin clean and dry.
However, when there is no risk of others coming into contact with your skin, such as at night when you sleep, uncover the bumps to help keep your skin healthy.
Sports and Activities to Avoid or Be Careful with When You Have Molluscum
To prevent spread of the infection to other people, people with molluscum should not take part in contact sports unless all growths can be covered by clothing or bandages. Wrestling, basketball, and football are examples of contact sports.
Activities that use shared gear should also be avoided unless all bumps can be covered. Helmets, baseball gloves, and balls are examples of shared gear.
Swimming should also be avoided unless all growths can be covered by watertight bandages. Personal items (such as towels, goggles, and swim suits) should not be shared. Other items and equipment (such as kick boards and water toys) should be used only when all bumps are covered by clothing or watertight bandages.
Other Ways to Avoid Sharing Your Infection
- Other personal items that may spread the virus should not be shared by people with molluscum. Some examples of personal items are unwashed clothes, hair brushes, wrist watches, and bar soap.
- People with molluscum should not shave or have electrolysis performed on body areas that have growths.
- People who have bumps in the genital area (on or near the penis, vulva, vagina, or anus) should avoid sexual contact until they have seen a health care provider.
Some treatments exist for molluscum that may prevent spread of the infection to other parts of the body and to other people. A health care provider can remove the growths with surgery or laser therapy. A health care provider may also prescribe a cream to apply on the bumps or a medicine to take by mouth.
However, treatment is not usually required because the bumps disappear on their own within 6 months. However, they may not go away completely for up to 4 years. In addition, not all treatments are successful for all people. For example, it is more difficult to treat persons who have a weak immune system. This includes people who are infected with HIV or who are receiving drugs to treat cancer.
Some molluscum treatments that are advertised on the Internet are not effective and may even be harmful! Therefore, always discuss any therapy with a health care provider before using it.
Page last updated: January 13, 2011
Content Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID)
Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology (DHCPP)