Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum, sometimes called water warts, is a common viral infection of the skin. From a medical standpoint, it is harmless, but it can be annoying and unsightly. While it can be transmitted sexually, it is more common to pass from person to person via non-sexual contact.

What does Molluscum look like?

When infected with molluscum, painless dome shaped lesions varying in size from 1 to 5 millimeters occur on the affected skin. Molluscum is caused by a virus that affects humans, and is spread by direct skin to skin contact or by touching a towel or other clothing that is infected. The most common sites that are affected are the arms, legs, groin, and the trunk area. It affects nearly 2% of the world population, but as the condition is medically harmless and often self-limiting, it is thought to be underreported.

How long does Molluscum last?

Molluscum infections are generally self-limiting, and clear without any special treatment over time. The majority of molluscum infections clear within two years, but the exact duration varies from individual to individual, depending on how their immune system reacts. In patients with weakened immune systems, however, the infections are often more severe, and may take longer to clear. Various treatments can help reduce the length the duration of infection, and surgical excision will remove the lesion altogether. Once the lesions are gone, the patient can no longer spread the infection.

Is it a sexually transmitted infection?

Molluscum can certainly be transmitted through sexual activity as it spreads via skin to skin contact. It is not the only way that it can be spread however. In fact, Molluscum infection is most common in children under ten. Another common source of transmission is autoinoculation-spreading to other parts of the body by touching the lesion, and then touching another area of the body. Unlike herpes or many other viral infections, once the skin is clear of lesions the virus has left the body and the person is no longer contagious.

How should I treat Molluscum?

Molluscum rarely causes any medical complications, and will often resolve spontaneously even if it is left untreated, so treatment is not a necessity. For children with a Molluscum infection, the most common strategy is to simply wait until the immune system recognizes it and clears out the virus on its own. Astringent chemicals, essential oils, or over the counter wart medications which often consist of salicylic acid are a common treatment. These solutions may help reduce the duration of infection. Surgical procedures or laser treatments may remove the lesions immediately, but can scar or depigment the treated area. To treat or not to treat will depend on the patient's goals and priorities.