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Molluscum Contagiosum Facts

Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral infection that is caused by a poxvirus know as MCV (the Mollscum Contagiosum Virus). There are four different subtypes of this virus (MCV-1 to 4) but it is felt that the majority of infections seen are from MCV-1.

The virus affects all ages and can effect anyone, but there are three main groups that are primarily affected:

  • Young children
  • Sexually active adults
  • Immunosuppressed people, especially those with HIV

Molluscum is spread through direct skin to skin contact. The transmission is increased when the skin is wet and swimming pools have been associated with infection.

The lesions that result from molluscum contagiosum are smooth surfaced, firm, dome shaped papules that have a pearly, flesh colored tone. They average 3-5 mm in diameter though they can reach larger sizes of more than a centimeter. There is a characteristic umbilicated center that helps with diagnosis and can be seen illustrated on our molluscum pictures page. 

In addition to their "classic" appearance, molluscum can become irritated, at times presenting with scabs or crusts.  The bumps can also become infected giving them a red appearance at which times they may be tender as well.  It is also common to develop an eczema around the lesions and this may indicate an early response by the body's immune system as it is trying to get rid of the virus.

In young children, the lesions are usually spread over the body involving the face, trunk, arms and legs and can range in numbers from a few to more than one hundred. While the bumps tend to involve both sides of the body, there often seems to be a prominence on one side of the body.  In adults, molluscum are typically sexually transmitted and there are usually 20 lesions or less mostly located on the lower abdomen, upper thighs and genitals.

There are numerous treatment options ranging from simple observation, to topical medications, to physical/destructive measures and these are covered in great detail in our section on molluscum treatment.