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Molluscum Contagiosum

1.    What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious, viral infection characterized by raised, pearly bumps or nodules appearing mainly on the face, neck, armpits, arms, or genitals.  These may be spread by direct contact (in children) or by sexual contact (in adults), and may persist from a few months to a few years.  This skin infection produces no serious illness, and ultimately disappears in time without scarring.

2.    What Does Molluscum Contagiosum Look Like?

The lesions of molluscum contagiosum begin as small, flesh-colored, dome-shaped bumps which later raise up to become pearly or gray, soft nodules, often with a depressed dimple at the center.  Often these centers contain a plug of white, cheese-like or waxy material.  Bumps and nodules are often found in a line along the skin, where scratching and spreading of the virus has occurred.  In children, molluscum contagiosum commonly affects the arms, legs, body, or anywhere except the palms and soles.  In adults, the virus commonly affects the genitals, abdomen, and inner-thighs.

3.    Who Does Molluscum Contagiosum Affect?

Molluscum contagiosum occurs commonly in children, as well as sexually active adults.  It is seen more frequently among males than females, and is especially prevalent among HIV-infected individuals, who may have hundreds of mollusca on the body.  Despite its transmission, molluscum contagiosum resolves by itself over time, and is not a lifelong disease.

4.    What Causes Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus that invades and colonizes cells of the skin and of the hair follicles.  It is transmitted by skin contact and by sexual contact among healthy individuals, but once transmitted, persists longer and causes larger lesions among individuals with compromised immune systems, such as HIV.  

5.    What Triggers Molluscum Contagiosum?

Continued skin contact with affected individuals increases the risk of contracting molluscum contagiosum.  Most transmission occurs among siblings, or in places of high skin-to-skin contact, such as swimming pools.  It also spreads more readily in tropical climates, where heat and humidity favor the viral cycle.  In addition, continued scratching, rubbing, or shaving over the nodules can spread the virus and cause new mollusca to form nearby.  For molluscum contagiosum of the genitalia, sexual contact with infected individuals increases the risk of contraction.  While wearing condoms is advised to prevent other sexually transmitted diseases from spreading, the molluscum contagiosum virus is frequently located on areas of the epidermis not covered by a condom.  Total abstinence is therefore the only foolproof way to avoid sexually contracting the virus. 

6.    How Can My Molluscum Contagiosum Be Treated? 

A number of treatments may be used to control Molluscum contagiosum.  Aldara anti-viral cream may be applied regularly to help the body shed the virus and to eradicate lesions.  Another treatment is liquid nitrogen, which, after multiple treatments, may completely destroy the infected tissue.  After freezing, a blister may form over the wound, which may burst and crust while healing.  Rarely, a slight difference in pigmentation may still be seen after the procedure.  Podophyllin and Cantharidin are other, commonly-used topical destructive treatments that are successful in clearing molluscum lesions.  Small mollusca may also be removed with a small curette with little discomfort or pain.  For more information on treatments for molluscum contagiosum or to schedule a skin check, please call and speak with a representative at the Berman Skin Institute.

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