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Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection of the skin that causes small bumps. This virus is commonly spread through skin-to-skin contact, including sexual contact.  In healthy people, the bumps will usually go away on their own in 2 - 4 months, but other treatment options are also available.

For more information on symptoms, causes, treatments and prevention see the Overview section.

Information for Health Professionals

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection of the skin that causes small pearly or flesh-coloured bumps. The bumps may be clear, and the centre is often indented (umbilicated). The virus is easily spread (contagious) but is not harmful.

The small, round, smooth/waxy, indented bumps are usually about 3 mm to 5 mm in size. The bumps are painless, and may appear alone or in groups. They are most often found on the trunk, face, eyelids or genital area. In children, bumps usually appear on the trunk, face, and arms. In sexually active teenagers and young adults, the bumps are commonly located in the pubic area, groin, thighs and genital area. The bumps may become inflamed at the base and turn red as part of the body's natural immune system response as it fights the virus. 

The incubation period—the time from exposure to the virus until the bumps appear—is usually 2 to 7 weeks but can be up to 6 months. 

In people who have an impaired immune system, such as HIV infection, symptoms of molluscum contagiosum are more severe.

 

The virus commonly spreads through skin-to-skin contact. This includes sexual contact or touching or scratching the bumps and then touching the skin. Handling objects that have the virus on them, such as a towel, can also result in infection. The virus can spread from one part of the body to another or to other people. The virus can be spread among children at daycare or at school. Molluscum contagiosum is contagious until the bumps are gone; if untreated, this may take up to 6 months or longer.  

 

Sometimes the bumps can become irritated, inflamed, and infected by bacteria. If this occurs, consult a doctor to discuss the need for antibiotics. In some HIV-infected people with advanced immunodeficiency, multiple molluscum may appear on the face and may increase in number in spite of attempts to get rid of them with treatments. They can be spread by scratching or shaving and can cause scarring.  

 

Molluscum contagiosum is usually diagnosed during a physical examination. If the diagnosis is unclear and other conditions are suspected, your health professional may take a sample of the bump to examine.  If an adult has bumps the genital area, the health professional may check for other sexually transmitted infections, such as genital herpes or HPV.

 

In healthy people, treatment for molluscum contagiosum may not be necessary because individual bumps usually go away on their own in 2 to 4 months, although it may take longer. Some people choose to remove the bumps because they are embarrassed by them, or to keep them from spreading to other people.  Health professionals usually recommend treating bumps located in the genital area to prevent them from spreading.
 
If needed, treatment choices include:

  • Removing the viral material in the centre by scraping the centre briskly (curettage).
  • Freezing the skin growth (cryotherapy).
  • Putting medication on the skin (topical medication).
  • Taking medication by mouth (oral medication).
 

 You can reduce your risk of spreading or becoming infected with Molluscum contagiosum by practicing safe sex.

  • Use condoms.
  • Avoid sexual contact if you have symptoms of an STI or are being treated for an STI.
  • Avoid sexual contact with anyone who has symptoms of an STI or who may have been exposed to an STI.

Your risk for an STI increases if you have several sex partners.

 
SOURCE: Molluscum Contagiosum ( )
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