Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a fairly common skin condition caused by a virus that usually affects small children (usually ages 1-5 years old) whose immune systems are not completely devloped, immunocompromised people especially those with HIV/AIDS and young adults who are sexually active.  Young children can easily spread molluscum amongst themselves through casual contact.  Immunocompetent adults usually only get molluscum through sexual activity and so it considered a sexually transmitted disease.  Other people who can get affected by molluscum are wrestlers who can have prolonged skin to skin contact with certain positions and people with compromised skin such as with eczema or right after an aggressive laser treatment on which molluscum can easily spread.   

Molluscum is usually diagnosed visually.  They are small little pink or flesh-colored bumps that almost look like blisters.  On the larger ones, you may even notice a central depression which is classic for molluscum.  

Although highly contagious, molluscum is a benign condition.  I think of them like warts but generally, easier to treat.  Treatment is very similar to treatment for warts.  Liquid nitrogen is a very common procedure used to treat molluscum.  In this procedure, each molluscum is frozen to destroy the skin cells that contain the virus.  Another common treatment used especially on kids is cantharidin.  Cantharidin is derived from the blistering beetle which excretes a substance that causes blister formation on the skin.  Similar to the liquid nitrogen, cantharidin destroys the skin cells that contain the virus with its blistering action.  This is a substance that is applied in the office and then washed off about 3-4 hours later.  Generally, only 1 treatment is needed whether using liquid nitrogen or cantharidin but because of the average incubation period of 2 to 7 weeks, it's possible that not all the molluscum was visible at the time of treatment.  It is important to follow up about 3-5 weeks after the first treatment just to make sure that all the molluscum have been treated because it is highly contagious.   It is also important to make sure that all affected people are treated as they can be reinfected after treatment.

Dana Kang, MD Dr. Kang is a board-certified dermatologist.

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