Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin disease caused by a virus which affects the top layers of the skin. The name molluscum contagiosum implies that the virus develops growths that are easily spread by skin contact. Similar to warts, this virus belongs to the poxvirus family and enters the skin through small breaks of hair follicles. It does not affect any internal organs.

What do mollusum look like?
Molluscum are usually small flesh-colored or pink dome-shaped growths that often become red or inflamed. They may appear shiny and have a small indentation in the center. Because they can spread by skin-to-skin contact, molluscum are usually found in areas of skin that touch each other such as the folds in the arm or the groin. They are also found in clusters on the chest, abdomen, and buttocks and can involve the face and eyelids.

In people with immune system diseases, the molluscum may be very large in size and number, especially on the face. To confirm the diagnosis of molluscum, a dermatologist might scrape some cells from the growth and look at them under a microscope.

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. It occurs most often in cases where skin-to-skin contact is frequent, in young children — especially among siblings, or in swimming pools. If growths are present in the genital area, molluscum can be sexually transmitted.

Who is most at risk to get molluscum?
People exposed to the molluscum virus through skin-to-skin contact have an increased risk of developing these growths. Children tend to get molluscum more often than adults. It is common in young children who have not yet developed immunity to the virus. Molluscum also seems to be more common in tropical climates where warmth and humidity favor the growth of the virus.

Does molluscum contagiosum need to be treated?
Many dermatologists advise treating molluscum because the growths are easily spread from one area of the skin to another. Some growths may appear as others are going away. However, molluscum will eventually go away on it’s own without leaving a scar. It may take from 6 months up to 5 years for all of the molluscum to go away. They may be more persistent in people with a weakened immune system.

How do dermatologists treat molluscum?

Molluscum are treated in similar ways that warts are 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, a topical immune modifier ( Aldara cream), or other topical antiviral medications. Laser therapy has also been found to be effective in treating molluscum. Some discomfort is associated with freezing, scraping, using the electric needle, and laser therapy. If there are many growths, multiple treatment sessions may be needed every 3 to 6 weeks until the growths are gone. An option, especially with young children, is not to treat molluscum and wait for the growths to go away.

What if the molluscum comes 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.

Is there any research going on about molluscum?
New drugs are being developed to treat viral infections. The molluscum infection has improved in some patients with AIDS 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.

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