Molluscum contagiosum is a highly contagious viral skin infection, primarily due to a weakened immune system. The virus is typically spread through skin-to-skin contact and by touching objects that are contaminated with the virus.
Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum
The primary symptom of molluscum contagiosum is pink or flesh-colored bumps on the skin that typically appear approximately seven weeks after exposure to the virus. The bumps most often appear on the neck, face, arms, armpits, and hands; however, they can occur on other parts of the body. Most patients develop anywhere from 10 to 20 bumps, but individuals with compromised immune systems may develop hundreds. The bumps appear as firm, dome-shaped growths that may feel smooth or waxy to the touch. The bump will normally have a dimpled center that may be filled with a white substance. The bumps may itch, but they are usually not painful. Scratching and picking at the bumps can cause the virus to spread.
Risk Factors for these Bumps on the Skin
Molluscum contagiosum is often seen in children and athletes who have frequent skin-to-skin contact or who share mats and other equipment. In adults, the condition is often spread through sexual contact. The virus flourishes in warm, humid areas, so individuals living in tropical climates are more prone to the condition. Individuals with other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, also have an increased risk of developing molluscum contagiosum. People with AIDS or who are undergoing cancer treatments that suppress the immune system can develop particularly severe cases of the disease.
Diagnosing and Treating this Benign Condition
A dermatologist is often able to diagnose molluscum contagiosum by the appearance of the bumps or by examining a small sample of infected skin under a microscope. In many cases, the bumps will clear on their own in about 12 to 18 months; however, treatment can prevent the condition from spreading to other parts of the body or to others. Treatment may also keep the disease from spreading uncontrollably in patients with weakened immune systems. Cryosurgery using liquid nitrogen may be used to freeze the bumps. The bumps may also be scraped off using a curette or destroyed using laser therapy. Topical treatments, including tricholoracetic acid, may also be used to burn off the bumps. Topical imiquimod and antiviral medications may be prescribed to help the immune system combat the virus.
Most people notice skin clearing within two to four months after starting treatment; however, new bumps can continue to appear for as long as six months after starting treatment. Individuals with compromised immune systems who have hundreds of bumps may not experience complete clearing. Individuals with molluscum contagiosum should remember that they are still contagious as long as they still have bumps.