Fast Facts

  • Molluscum contagiosum is a skin disease caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV)
  • It usually causes one or more small lesions/bumps.
  • Molluscum is generally a harmless infection and symptoms may resolve on their own.
  • While once a disease primarily of children, molluscum has evolved to become a sexually transmitted disease in adults.

How is molluscum transmitted?

Molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV) may be sexually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact (does not have to be mucous membranes) and/or lesions. Transmission through sexual contact is the most common form of transmission for adults.

MCV may be passed on from inanimate objects, like towels or clothing that come in contact with the lesions. MCV transmission has been associated with swimming pools and sharing baths with an infected person.

MCV also may be transmitted by autoinoculation, such as touching a lesion and then touching another part of the body. To stop from further spreading the infection, do not shave over or close to areas that are visibly infected.

How long until a person shows symptoms?

The time between when a person is infected and when they begin to show symptoms is called the incubation period. For molluscum, the incubation period averages two to three months, but it may range from one week to six months. So someone may see symptoms in as little as a week, others may take as long as six months. On average, it takes two to three months.

What are the symptoms of molluscum?

  • Molluscum can cause small, painless lesions. These lesions are raised bumps that have a dimple in the center. They may begin as small bumps which can develop over a period of several weeks into larger sores/bumps. The lesions can be flesh colored, gray-white, yellow or pink. They can cause itching or tenderness in the area, but in most cases the lesions cause few problems.
  • Lesions are usually present on the thighs, buttocks, groin and lower abdomen of adults, and may occasionally appear on the external genital and anal region.
  • Lesions can last from 2 weeks to 4 years—the average is 2 years.
  • People with compromised immune systems may develop extensive outbreaks.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made by the characteristic appearance of the lesion, so a provider can often tell by just looking. A provider can also take a specimen from the lesion and view it under a microscope to confirm.

Is molluscum treatable?

  • Most symptoms eventually resolve on their own, so treatment may not be necessary. But lesions can also be removed. This helps reduce the risk of further spreading the lesions on your own body of passing on MCV to others.
  • Lesions can be removed surgically and/or treated with a topical treatment such as podophyllin, cantharidin, phenol, or iodine.
  • Cryotherapy (freezing the lesion with liquid nitrogen) is an alternative method of removal.
  • Lesions may come back, but it is not clear whether this is due to reinfection or reactivation of a dormant infection.

What does it mean for my health?

The most common complication from molluscum is a secondary infection caused by bacteria. This can be more of a problem for people with compromised immune systems.

How can I reduce my risk?

Because transmission through sexual contact is the most common form of transmission for adults, preventing skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner will be most effective in preventing MCV.

Condoms or other barriers for vaginal, oral, and anal sex may help to prevent such contact. Using spermicides is not recommended as they can irritate the skin or vaginal tissue and, especially for women, cause abrasions (tiny openings in skin) that may make it easier to contract STDs/STIs.

If you do get molluscum contagiosum, avoid touching the lesion and then touching another part of the body without washing your hands to prevent any chance of spreading the infection.

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