Overview

Molluscum contagiosum (mo-LUS-kum kun-tay-jee-OH-sum) is a fairly common skin infection caused by a virus. It causes round, firm, painless bumps ranging in size from a pinhead to a pencil eraser. If the bumps are scratched or injured, the infection can spread to nearby skin. Molluscum contagiosum also spreads through person-to-person contact and contact with infected objects.

Though most common in children, molluscum contagiosum can affect adults as well — particularly those with weakened immune systems. Adults with a healthy immune system can develop molluscum contagiosum from sexual activity with an infected partner.

Left untreated, the bumps usually disappear in 6 months to 2 years.

Symptoms

Molluscum contagiosum signs and symptoms include:

  • Raised, round, skin-colored bumps
  • Small bumps — typically under about 1/4 inch (smaller than 6 millimeters) in diameter
  • Bumps with a small dent or dot at the top near the center
  • Itchy, pink bumps
  • Bumps on the face, trunk, arms or legs of children
  • Bumps on the genitals, lower abdomen or inner thighs of adults if the infection was sexually transmitted

When to see a doctor

If you suspect you or your child has molluscum contagiosum, contact your health care provider.

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Causes

The virus that causes molluscum contagiosum spreads easily through:

  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Contact with infected objects, such as towels, kickboards and wrestling mats
  • Swimming in pools or hot tubs contaminated with the virus
  • Sexual contact with an affected partner
  • Scratching or rubbing the bumps, which spreads the virus to nearby skin

Complications

The bumps and the skin around them may become inflamed. This is thought to be an immune system response to the infection. If scratched, these bumps can become infected and heal with scarring. If sores appear on the eyelids, pink eye (conjunctivitis) can develop.

Prevention

To help prevent the spread of the virus:

  • Wash your hands. Keeping your hands clean can help prevent spreading the virus.
  • Avoid touching the bumps. Shaving over the infected areas also can spread the virus.
  • Don't share or borrow personal items. These include clothing, towels, hairbrushes and other personal items.
  • Avoid sexual contact. If you have molluscum contagiosum on or near your genitals, don't have sex until the bumps are treated and gone.
  • Cover the bumps. Cover the bumps with clothing when around others, to prevent direct contact. Leave the affected area open to the air when not around others, as this promotes healthy skin. When swimming, cover the bumps with a watertight bandage.

May 06, 2022
  1. Molluscum contagiosum. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/molluscum-contagiosum/index.html. Accessed Feb. 22, 2022.
  2. Kliegman RM, et al. Cutaneous viral infections. In: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 22, 2022.
  3. AskMayoExpert. Molluscum contagiosum. Mayo Clinic; 2022.
  4. Mukwende M, et al. Molluscum contagiosum. In: Mind the Gap: A Handbook of Clinical Signs in Black and Brown Skin. St. George's University of London; 2020. https://www.blackandbrownskin.co.uk/mindthegap. Accessed Feb. 22, 2022.
  5. Kelly AP, et al., eds. Mucocutaneous viral infections. In: Taylor and Kelly's Dermatology for Skin of Color. 2nd ed. McGraw Hill; 2016. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Feb. 22, 2022.