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Molluscum contagiosum

Author: Hon A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, 1997. Updated by Dr Oakley and Dr Daniela Vanousova, Dermatologist, Czech Republic, in September 2015. DermNet NZ Revision August 2021


What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral skininfectionof childhood that causeslocalisedclusters ofumbilicatedepidermal丘疹.

Molluscum contagiosum

Who gets molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum mainly affects infants and young children under the age of 10 years. It is moreprevalentin warm climates than cool ones, and in overcrowded environments. Adolescents and adults are less often infected.

Molluscum contagiosum tends to be more numerous and last longer in children who also haveatopicdermatitis, due to deficiencies in theskin barrier. It can be very extensive and troublesome in patients withhuman immunodeficiency virus(HIV) infection or that have other reasons for poor immune function.

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a poxvirus, the molluscum contagiosum virus. There are at least 4 viral subtypes.

There are several ways the virus can spread:

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

Transmission of molluscum contagiosum appears to be more likely in wet conditions, such as when children bathe or swim together. Theincubationperiod is usually about 2 weeks but can be as long as 6 months.

What are the clinical features of molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum presents as clusters of small round papules. The papules range in size from 1 to 6 mm and may be white, pink or brown. They often have a waxy, shiny look with a small centralpit(this appearance is sometimes described as umbilicated). Eachpapulecontains white cheesy material.

There may be few or hundreds of papules on one individual. They mostly arise in warm moist places, such as the armpit, behind the knees, groin orgenitalareas. They can arise on the lips or rarely inside the mouth. They do not occur on palms or soles.

When molluscum contagiosum is autoinoculated by scratching, the papules often form a row.

Molluscum contagiosum frequently inducesdermatitisaround them and affected skin becomes pink, dry and itchy. As the papules resolve, they may become inflamed,crusted, or scabby for a week or two.

Molluscum contagiosum

See more images of molluscum contagiosum ...

Complications of molluscum contagiosum

  • Secondarybacterialinfection from scratching (impetigo)
  • Conjunctivitiswhen the eyelid is infected
  • Disseminatedsecondaryeczema; this represents animmunologicalreaction or 'id' to the virus
  • Numerous andwidespreadmolluscum contagiosum that are larger than usual may occur in immune-deficient patients (such as uncontrolledHIVinfection or in patients onimmune suppressing drugs), and often affect the face
  • Spontaneous, pitted scarring
  • Scarring may be spontaneous or due to surgical treatment

Spontaneous scarring due to molluscum contagiosum

How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?

Molluscum contagiosum is usually recognised by its characteristic clinical appearance or ondermatoscopy. White molluscum bodies can often be expressed from the centre of the papules.

Sometimes, the diagnosis is made onskinbiopsy.Histopathology显示特征cintracytoplasmicinclusionbodies.

Dermoscopy of molluscum contagiosum

What is the treatment for molluscum contagiosum?

There is no single perfect treatment of molluscum contagiosum since we are currently unable to kill the virus. In many cases no specific treatment is necessary.

Physical treatments

  • Picking out the soft white core (note, this could lead toautoinoculation)
  • Cryotherapy(can leave white marks)
  • Gentlecurettageor electrodessication (canscar)
  • Laserablation(can scar).

Medical treatments

Secondarydermatitismay be treated symptomatically with a mildtopicaltopicalcorticosteroidsuch as hydrocortisone cream. Dermatitis is unlikely to fully resolve until the molluscum infection has cleared up.

Prevention of molluscum contagiosum infection

Molluscum contagiosum is infectious while active. However, affected children and adults should continue to attend daycare, school, and work.

To reduce spread:

  • Keep hands clean
  • Avoid scratching or shaving
  • Cover all visiblelesionswith clothing or watertight bandages
  • Dispose of used bandages
  • Do not share towels, clothing, or other personal effects
  • Adults should practice safesexor abstinence.

What is the outlook for molluscum contagiosum?

In immune competenthosts, molluscum contagiosum is a relatively harmless. The papules maypersistfor up to 2 years or longer. In children, about half of cases have cleared by 12 months, and two-thirds by 18 months, with or without treatment. Contact with another infected individual later on can lead to a new crop.

Infection can be verypersistentin the presence of significantimmune deficiency.


  • Basdag H, Rainer BM, Cohen BA. Molluscum contagiosum: to treat or not to treat? Experience with 170 children in an outpatient clinic setting in the northeastern United States. Pediatr Dermatol. 2015;32(3):353-7. doi:10.1111/pde.12504.PubMed
  • Meza-Romero R, Navarrete-Dechent C, Downey C. Molluscum contagiosum: an update and review of new perspectives in etiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019;12:373-81. doi:10.2147/CCID.S187224.Journal
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  • van der Wouden JC, van der Sande R, Kruithof EJ, Sollie A, van Suijlekom-Smit LW, Koning S. Interventions for cutaneous molluscum contagiosum. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;5(5):CD004767. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004767.pub4.Journal

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