- Caused by a virus and usually causes a mild skin disease
- The virus affects only the outer (epithelial) layer of skin and does not circulate throughout the body in healthy people
- Symptoms include: small white, pink, or flesh-colored raised bumps or growths with a dimple or pit in the center
- Molluscum usually disappears within 6 to 12 months without treatment and without leaving scars
How do you get it?
The virus that causes molluscum is spread from person to person by touching the affected skin. The virus may also be spread by touching a surface with the virus on it, such as a towel, clothing, or toys. Once someone has the virus, the bumps can spread to other parts of their body by touching or scratching a bump and then touching another part of the body.
Molluscum can be spread from one person to another by sexual contact. Although the virus might be spread by sharing swimming pools, baths, saunas, or other wet and warm environments, this has not been proven. Researchers who have investigated this idea think it is more likely the virus is spread by sharing towels and other items around a pool or sauna than through water.
If you have molluscum, you will see small white, pink, or flesh-colored raised bumps or growths with a pit or dimple in the center. The bumps are usually smooth and firm. They can be as small as the head of a pin and as large as a pencil eraser (2 to 5 millimeters in diameter). The growths are usually painless but may become itchy, sore and red and/or swollen. They may occur anywhere on the body including the face, neck, arms, legs, abdomen, and genital area, alone or in groups. The bumps are rarely found on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.
The most common complication is a secondary infection caused by bacteria. Additionally, the removal of bumps by scratching, freezing (cryotherapy), or fluid removal (curettage) can leave scars on the skin.
If you have any unusual skin irritation, rash, bumps, or blisters that do not disappear in a few days, contact a health care provider. Only a health care professional can diagnose molluscum. He or she will discuss treatment options and how to care for the affected skin.
You should discuss all treatment options with a health care provider. Usually no treatment is needed because the bumps disappear by themselves within 6-12 months, although this may take up to 4 years. To prevent the spread of molluscum to other areas of your body or to other people, it is important to keep every blister or bump covered either with clothing or with a watertight bandage. However, to promote healthy skin, do remove the bandage at night and when there is no risk of others coming into contact with your skin. A number of treatment options are available, but some (available from internet services) are not effective and may even be harmful. Therefore, always discuss any possible therapy with your health care provider. Treating the molluscum growths may prevent spread to other parts of the body and to other people. Not everyone agrees on how well treatments work. Treatment is more difficult for persons with weakened immune systems (for example, people who are HIV positive or receiving cancer drugs). For people with weakened immune systems, the best treatment seems to be medications that help strengthen the immune system.
The best way to avoid getting molluscum is by following good hygiene habits.
- Do not touch, pick, or scratch any skin with bumps or blisters (yours or someone else’s).
- Good hand hygiene is the best way to avoid getting many infections including molluscum. For handwashing tips, see the Clean Hands Saves Lives Web site. By washing your hands frequently you wash away germs picked up from other people or from contaminated surfaces.
For information on free and low cost STD testing and treatment services in Los Angeles County, call the STD Hotline at 1-800-758-0880 or visit our STD Testing & Services section.