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Molluscum Contagiosum

March 1, 2011

By: Catherine DiGiorgio, MD

Molluscum Contagiosum are small, smooth, dome-shaped pearly papules or bumps that are caused by the poxvirus. They are most easily passed from person to person by direct contact, especially when the skin is wet. This makes spreading even more common while swimming. The bumps can become irritated or infected mostly from scratching or rubbing.

Molluscum are very common in young children and usually appear scattered on the body, but most commonly appear on the face, trunk, arms, and legs. It is normal for a child to have a few lesions to more than 100 lesions. In most cases, a component of eczema is also present, which allows the molluscum to spread quickly and easily to different parts of the body. In adults, molluscum is usually sexually transmitted and can appear on the lower abdomen, upper thighs, or on the genitalia.

Treatment of children with molluscum is usually not required and the molluscum will go away on their own in about 2 years. Many parents are uncomfortable waiting for molluscum to go away on their own so they request treatment. The most common treatment is cantharidin application every 3-4 weeks until the lesions resolve. Cantharidin is derived from the blister beetle and causes blistering in the area a few hours after application. It is painless and safe, making it a very common treatment choice for young children. Your doctor may also prescribe a cream to apply to the area called Imiquimod, which causes inflammation of the skin allowing the body’s own immune system help fight off the virus. It is important to remember that there is a small risk of scarring when treating molluscum. Also, any concomitant eczema in children must also be treated to prevent the spread of the virus. In adults, molluscum are most commonly treated by cryotherapy, or freezing with liquid nitrogen.

If you notice molluscum on your child’s skin or on your skin, you should make an appointment with your dermatologist so the bumps can be evaluated and possibly treated.