Although molluscum contagiosum is a common skin rash in kids, many parents have never heard of it. The most important thing to know about it is that, for most children, the rash is no big deal and goes away on its own over time.
About Molluscum Contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that causes a mild skin rash. The rash looks like one or more small growths or wart-like bumps (called mollusca) that are usually pink, white, or skin-colored. The bumps are usually soft and smooth and may have an indented center.
Infection is most common among kids between 1 and 12 years old, but also occurs in:
- teens and adults
- some athletes, such as wrestlers, swimmers, and gymnasts
- people whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV, cancer treatment, or long-term steroid use
As you might guess by its name, this skin disorder is contagious, and can be passed from one person to another. It is unknown how long the rash and virus may be contagious.
Molluscum contagiosum is caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV), a member of the poxvirus family. This virus thrives in warm, humid climates and in areas where people live very close together.
Infection with MCV occurs when the virus enters a small break in the skin's surface. Many people who come in contact with the virus have immunity against it, and do not develop any growths. For those not resistant to it, growths usually appear 2 to 8 weeks after infection.
Kids can get molluscum contagiosum in a few different ways. It spreads easily, and most commonly, through direct skin-to-skin contact, but kids can get it by touching objects that have the virus on them, such as toys, clothing, towels, and bedding. It can also spread in water.
Once someone has molluscum contagiosum, it can be spread from one part of the body to another by scratching or rubbing the bumps and then touching another part of the body.
Molluscum contagiosum also can be spread between sexual partners.
Signs and Symptoms
Because it is a skin infection, the only real sign or symptom of molluscum contagiosum are the small round pink, white, or skin-colored mollusca on the skin. These bumps are filled with a white, waxy pus core that contains the virus, and might have a shiny or "pearly" look.
Each molluscum starts out as a very small spot about the size of a pinhead and grows over several weeks into a larger bump that might become as large as a pea or pencil eraser. A tiny dimple (indentation) often develops on the top of each molluscum.
The mollusca can appear alone as a single bump or in groups, clusters, or rows. They can show up almost anywhere on the skin, but in kids are most commonly found on the chest, stomach, arms (including the armpits), legs, groin, genital area, and face.
In sexually active teens and adults, the bumps are usually located in the genital area or the inner thighs. Rarely, the bumps can occur around the eyes or around the mouth.
Most people develop between 1 and 20 mollusca. They're usually painless, but can become itchy, red, swollen, sore, and infected, especially if scratched.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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