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What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Molluscum contagiosum is a virus in the poxvirus family which causes small nodules to appear on the skin. The virus only infects the skin, and it usually resolves on its own within a year or two. People can seek treatment for cosmetic reasons to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to other people, but they often choose to allow the infection to run its course without interference. As the name suggests, Molluscum contagiosum is contagious, and it may spread to people sharing a household, or through a school with young children.

The virus can be spread through skin to skin contact, or by handling things which have been handled by someone who has the virus, such as towels. Molluscum contagiosum starts as a single pearl-like nodule on the skin. People can self-inoculate themselves, causing the virus to spread as a result of one nodule rubbing against other areas of skin, causing more nodules to appear. Once the virus inside a single nodule dies, the nodule will deflate and resolve itself.

The distinctive bumps on the skin caused by this disease can be mistaken for warts or skin tags, but once they start to spread, a doctor can quickly diagnose Molluscum contagiosum. In most cases, the patient will simply be advised to wait the virus out, and to be careful about skin to skin contact with other people until the nodules resolve. However, the nodules can be removed with a laser, scalpel, or a device which freezes the skin, and some people find that using astringents or suffocating the nodules with tape will cause them to disappear.

In most people, Molluscum contagiosum infection is not a threat, although it may feel uncomfortable or attract attention from people who notice the nodules. In individuals with compromised immune systems, the infection can get more complicated, and the nodules are highly likely to spread. In these cases, seeking medical advice is strongly recommended, and the doctor may determine that the nodules should be removed or treated with medicated ointments.

A dermatologist is the best person to see about a suspected Molluscum contagiosum infection, as the virus infects the skin, and dermatologists have experience in dealing with skin conditions. Some general practitioners may also offer treatment to a patient infected with this virus, especially if the infection is mild and the patient is relatively healthy otherwise. Unlike its more famous relative, smallpox, Molluscum contagiosum is not deadly, and an infection should not be a cause for major concern.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By mcvdad — On Mar 01, 2014

There are effective natural cures for molluscum which are safe for children. These include apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, and clove oil.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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