What is Molluscum Contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a common viral skin condition most often seen in children. The small, raised bumps caused by the infection are not painful, but they may be itchy and can easily spread to other parts of the body when scratched. MC can also be passed on to other children (and occasionally adults) by bodily contact or by contact with contaminated objects. So, what is molluscum contagiosum? Let’s take a look.
Outbreaks of MC are usually mild and treatment is often unnecessary. In most cases, the infection will clear up by itself after a period of six to 12 months. However, if the infection is severe, causing distress or disruption of daily activities, various treatment options may be recommended to remove or reduce bumps.
Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum
The main symptom of MC is small, raised, flesh-colored bumps on the skin. These often form in clusters and, though usually not painful, may be itchy. The bumps caused by MC are most often found in the armpits, behind the knees or in the groin. The infection is easily spread to other parts of the body and may also show up on the face, arms, neck and hands.
Other identifying characteristics of MC include:
- Bumps that have a small indentation in the middle
- Bumps that are easily rubbed or scratched away (this is how the virus spreads across the skin)
- Redness or inflammation around bumps
Causes of Molluscum Contagiosum
MC is caused by a pox virus called the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV) and most often affects children between the ages of two to five years. It is typically spread by skin-to-skin contact, but may also be picked up through contact with infected objects (such as clothing). Some studies have found that children with eczema are at higher risk of developing MC, though the condition can affect any child that comes into contact with infected people or objects.
Can Adults Get Molluscum Contagiosum?
MC is more common in children than adults, possibly because typical childhood behaviour routinely puts them in close contact with others. The condition can also affect adolescents and adults though, in these cases, MC is usually sexually transmitted and tends to show up on the genitals, thighs and lower abdomen. The condition may also affect adults with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV infections.
When to See a Doctor
If you notice bumps on your child’s skin and think they may have MC, take them to a doctor for a professional assessment and diagnosis. Usually, no treatment is necessary, as MC infections are often mild and will eventually clear up by themselves. However, your doctor may recommend treatment if:
- The bumps caused by MC are extensive, numerous, unsightly, or are causing emotional distress
- The infection is bad enough to interfere with everyday activities (such as school or sports)
- Your child also has eczema
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Treatment Options for Molluscum Contagiosum
The recommended treatment for MC varies from patient to patient and depends on the severity of the condition. You should always discourage scratching, picking or squeezing of bumps in children, as this facilitates the spread of the infection to different body parts. If the infection is severe with numerous or unsightly bumps, your doctor may recommend additional treatment. Here are some common treatments for CM.
Topical Creams and Lotions
Sometimes, MC can be treated at home using gels, lotions or ointments that are applied directly to the skin. Speak to your doctor to see which type they recommend.
Cantharidin is a common, topical treatment for warts that can also be used to remove the bumps caused by MC. This treatment option is often recommended for children with MC due to its safety and effectiveness.
Physical Removal of Bumps
During a curettage treatment, a doctor will use a device called a curette to physically remove MC bumps and their contents from the skin. When performed by a trained medical professional, curettage is an effective way to remove bumps and should involve little to no pain or bleeding. However, this treatment is often emotionally distressing for young children and is usually only recommended for older children, adolescents and adults.
Cryotherapy involves the application of a very cold substance (usually liquid nitrogen) to freeze and destroy MC bumps. This treatment is also commonly used to remove warts and is highly effective. Unfortunately, it is also a little painful and may be unsuitable for young children.
How to Prevent the Spread of Molluscum Contagiosum
MC is a very common skin condition among young children. The infection spreads easily through bodily contact or contact with infected items, so there is no way to guarantee that your child will not contract the virus from friends at school or in a group-care setting.
Fortunately, most cases of MC are mild and clear up by themselves without any need for medical intervention. If your child contracts MC, you can reduce the risk of them spreading it to others by:
- Covering affected areas. Dressing your child in clothes that cover affected areas can help to prevent the MC virus from spreading to others. Use a waterproof bandage for coverage when swimming.
- Avoiding shared clothing or towels. The MC virus is easily spread through contact with contaminated items, especially clothing and towels. Keep a separate towel for children with MC and discourage sharing of clothes to limit the spread of the virus.
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that predominantly affects children from two to five years of age. The infection is usually mild and, in most cases, clears up without treatment; however, it is easily spread to other body parts and can be transmitted to others through person-to-person contact. If you think your child has MC, take steps to limit the spread of infection and consult your doctor about potential treatment options.