Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum Research in Portland, Oregon

Molluscum contagiosum is a common non-cancerous skin growth caused by a viral infection in the top layers of the skin. They are similar to warts, but are caused by a different virus. The name molluscum contagiosum implies that the virus and the growths are easily spread by skin contact. The virus that causes molluscum contagiosum belongs to a family of viruses called poxviruses. This virus can enter through small breaks in the skin or hair follicles and can lead to the development of the molluscum lesions. It does not affect any internal organs.

What do molluscum look like?

Molluscum are usually small flesh-colored or pink dome-shaped growths. They may appear shiny and have a small indentation in the center. Molluscum are often found in clusters on the skin of the chest, abdomen, arms, groin or buttocks. They can also involve the face and eyelids. Because they can spread by skin-to-skin contact, molluscum are usually found in areas of the skin that touch each other such as folds in the arm or in the groin. Often the molluscum may become red or inflamed. This tends to occur just before the growth is ready to go away on its own. Sometimes, the dermatologist might scrape some cells from the lesion and look at these under the microscope to confirm the diagnosis of molluscum. In people with diseases of the immune system, the molluscum may be very large in size and may involve the face.

How do you get molluscum?

The molluscum virus is transmitted from the skin of one person who has these growths to the skin of another person. Molluscum occur most often in cases where skin-to-skin contact is frequent. They often occur in young children, especially among siblings. Molluscum can also be sexually transmitted if growths are present in the genital area. It is also possible, but less likely to acquire the molluscum virus from non-living objects.

Why do some people get molluscum and others do not?

People that are exposed more often to the molluscum virus through skin-to-skin contact, have an increased risk of developing these lesions. It is common in young children who have not yet developed immunity to the virus. Children tend to get molluscum more than adults do. Molluscum also seems to be more common in tropical climates as warmth and humidity tend to favor the growth of the virus. People with HIV infections are more susceptible to acquiring molluscum repeatedly.

Do molluscum need to be treated?

Many dermatologist advise treating molluscum because they spread. However, most molluscum will eventually go away on their own. Because the growths are easily spread from one area of the skin to another, some growths may appear as others are going away. It may take from 6 months up to 5 years for all of the molluscum to go away on their own. They may be more persistent in people with a weakened immune system.

How do dermatologists treat molluscum?

Molluscum are treated in the same ways that warts area treated. They can be frozen with liquid nitrogen, destroyed with various acids or blistering solutions, treated with an electric needle (electrocautery), scraped off with a sharp instrument (curette), treated daily with a home application of a topical retinoid cream or gel, with a topical immune modifier, like imiquimod (Aldara). Some discomfort is associated with these methods and these procedures are often reserved for older children and adults. If there are many growths, multiple treatment sessions may be needed every 3 to 4 weeks until the growths are gone. It is also an option, especially with young children, not to treat, and to wait for the growths to go away on their own.

What if the molluscum come back after treatment?

It is always possible for a person’s skin to get infected again with the molluscum virus. The condition may be easier to control if treatment is started when there are only a few growths. The fewer the growths, the better the chance for stopping their spread will be.

Is there any research going on about molluscum?

New drugs are being developed to treat viral infections. Molluscum infection has improved in some patients with HIV who were taking certain antiviral drugs. If new and effective antiviral drugs can be developed in a topical form, perhaps they may be of benefit in the treatment of molluscum in the future.