Molluscum Contagiosum: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral skin infection of childhood occasionally called ‘water warts’ is one such virus that is spread by touching affected skin. It can also be transferred via other surfaces such as towels or clothing. Molluscum contagiosum affects almost 2 % of people worldwide on a yearly basis and is especially prevalent where general hygiene and cleanliness is compromised.

There are several ways it can spread:

  • Direct skin-to-skin contact
  • Indirect contact via shared towels or other items
  • Auto-inoculation into another site by scratching or shaving
  • Sexual transmission in adults

Although extremely contagious, molluscum contagiosum usually disappears without treatment within six to twelve months, although they can last much longer if immune responses are weak. The virus is generally harmless but scratching the lesions can lead to self-infection when other parts of the body are touched. It’s also understood that eczema develops around lesions in approximately 10 % of molluscum contagiosum cases.

Molluscum Contagiosum symptoms

It can be difficult to track down the source of molluscum contagiosum infection as an incubation period of two weeks to two months is common. Lesions are often noticed in groups and although painless they can be concerning, especially to parents with young children. A dermatology consultation is recommended in all skin lesion scenarios and in the case of molluscum contagiosum, any concern is easily dispelled by proper diagnosis.

Symptoms of molluscum contagiosum include:

  • small waxy, shiny papules or nodules; white, pink or flesh-coloured in appearance
  • dome shaped growths with a central dimple (umblication)
  • a core of white cheesy material
  • they can manifest anywhere except the palms of hands and soles of the feet
  • lesions in adults are often noticed around the genitals, inner thigh or abdomen
  • They can arise on the lips or rarely inside the mouth.

The symptoms are sometimes greater in a person with a weak immune system. Lesions can be more than a centimetre in diameter, with greater resistance to dermatological treatments.

Molluscum Contagiosum risk factors

Anyone can be infected with molluscum contagiosum, although there are inherent risks involved under specific conditions. Age, climate and some activities all play a role in the spread of infection, with precautionary measures the best means of avoiding transfer of the virus. Molluscum contagiosum is more prominent in certain groups, including:

  • toddlers and children up to ten years of age
  • people who live in humid tropical climates
  • people who are prone to suffer from itchy, scaly rashes associated with eczema
  • people who play contact sports where skin-to-skin contact occurs
  • sports people and others who share gear, clothing, towels and helmets
  • People suffering from a weakened immune system caused by aids, cancer or organ transplant.

Molluscum Contagiosum diagnosis and treatment

As with the majority of skin problems, a professional Dermatologist at Pymble Dermatology can accurately diagnose molluscum contagiosum during your initial consultation. If required, a biopsy can be performed for confirmation of the diagnosis in unusual presentation.

Additional treatments aren’t usually required as the lesions normally recede and disappear of their own accord over time. However, caution is always sensible and a diagnosis is recommended for any skin lesions that persist for more than a few days. Confirmation of the lesions as harmless is the sure way of ruling out more invasive infections or malignant cancers.

Lesions naturally dissipate and disappear when the immune system is healthy. There are, however, some situations where additional treatments are required, such as the prevalence of atopic dermatitis and the desire for cosmetic improvements when large lesions appear on the face.

Effective treatments include:

  • picking out the soft white core (note, this could lead to autoinoculation)
  • cryotherapy (freezing)
  • laser therapy (is an option but is not available at our practice) at present time)
  • gentle curettage  or electrodessication– piercing and scraping off the bump
  • topical therapy – the use of creams containing acids or chemicals

Secondary dermatitis may be treated symptomatically with a mild  topical corticosteroid . It is unlikely to fully resolve until the molluscum infection has cleared up.

As each bump is treated individually, more than one visit to Pymble Dermatology may be required. Your caring consultant will inform and guide you every step of the way during consultation, diagnosis, treatment and recovery.