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Molluscum Contagiosum

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin condition caused by a virus. It causes small pink or skin-colored bumps on the skin. They may spread or form lines when scratched. Almost any area of skin can be affected. Common sites include the face, neck, armpit, arms, hands, and genitals.

The rash spreads easily from one part of the body to another. It spreads through scratching or other contact. It can also spread from person to person. This often happens through shared clothing, towels, or objects such as shared sports gear. It can spread during contact sports or sexual contact.

The bumps usually go away in about 2 to 12 months. In rare cases, they last 3 to 5 years.

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

The condition is caused by a virus called a poxvirus. It is most common in children and teens, but it can affect adults. The virus is most often spread through skin contact with an infected person. It can be spread through:

  • Skin contact during sports

  • Sexual contact

  • Contact with sponges or towels of people who have the virus

The virus can also spread on your own skin by scratching or shaving the area with bumps.

Who is at risk for molluscum contagiosum? 

You are more at risk for molluscum contagiosum if you:

  • Have been in direct contact with a person who has the condition

  • Have a weakened immune system. This includes having HIV infection, cancer, diabetes, or taking medicines that suppress the immune system.

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Symptoms can appear 1 to 6 weeks after contact with the virus. They can occur a bit differently in each person. They can include bumps on the skin that are small and are pink or skin-colored. The bumps may itch. They may be round like a dome, and then develop a sunken center. The bumps can form alone or in groups or clusters.

The symptoms of molluscum contagiosum can be like other health conditions. Make sure to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and health history. He or she will give you a physical exam. The physical exam will include a full skin exam to be sure all affected areas are treated.   

In some cases, your healthcare provider may do a skin biopsy. He or she will remove a small piece of skin to send to a lab.

How is molluscum contagiosum treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

In most cases, the bumps will heal without treatment over 2 to 12 months. In rare cases, they last 3 to 5 years.

You may have treatment such as:

  • Removal of the bumps. Your healthcare provider may do this by freezing them (cryotherapy), or using a small blade, a curette, electric sparks, or lasers.

  • Medicine on the skin. This may help the bumps clear up more quickly. Blistering medicines or medicine that helps stimulate the immune system may help.

Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all treatments.

What are possible complications of molluscum contagiosum?

In some people, the bumps may lead to scarring of the skin.

What can I do to prevent molluscum contagiosum?

You can prevent this condition by avoiding contact with the skin or bath towels of people who have the virus.

How to manage molluscum contagiosum

While you have the virus:

  • Protect other people from direct contact with your affected skin areas.

  • Don’t scratch or pick at the rash. Scratching spreads the infection. If needed, cover affected skin with bandages to help prevent scratching.

  • Don’t shave the bumps. This can also spread the virus on your own skin.

  • Wash your hands before and after caring for the rash.

  • Don’t share towels, washcloths, or clothing with anyone.

  • Don’t any areas that have bumps.

  • Don’t have sex if the bumps are in the genital area.

  • If you play contact sports or other activity that involves skin-to-skin contact, cover all affected skin with clothing or bandages.

  • Don’t swim in public pools until the rash goes away.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if you have:

  • Bumps appear on a new area of the body or seem to be spreading rapidly

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Signs of infection, such as warmth, pain, oozing, or redness

Key points about molluscum contagiosum

  • Molluscum contagiosum is a skin condition caused by a virus. It causes small pink or skin-colored bumps on the skin. They may appear anywhere on the body except the palms and soles of the feet.

  • These bumps usually go away in about 2 to 12 months. In rare cases, they last 3 to 5 years.

  • The virus is most often spread through skin contact with an infected person.

  • You may have treatment such as removal of bumps with freezing or other methods.

  • In some people, the bumps may lead to scarring of the skin.

  • You can prevent this condition by avoiding contact with the skin or bath towels of people who have the virus.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kevin Berman, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2018
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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