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Molluscum Contagiosum: Is it as Scary as it Sounds?

Noticing something unfamiliar on your skin can be worrisome and unnerving. Noticing an unfamiliar rash on your child can be a downright terrifying experience.

A skin infection often leads to a battery of questions: Is it contagious? Is it chronic? Is it dangerous? All of these are logical questions for parents to ask. Our intent with this blog is to help you better understand one common, yet misunderstood, skin condition that impacts millions of children (and adults) every year: Molluscum Contagiosum.

 

What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that causes a mild skin disease. Specialists believe that the infection accounts for roughly 1% of all skin disorders diagnosed in the United States.

It is most common among children under the age of 12. However, adults can get Molluscum Contagiosum, as well. In adults, the virus is often transmitted sexually, and can be especially bothersome (and unsightly) for individuals with a compromised immune system — or someone who suffers from Atopic Dermatitis.

 

How does someone get Molluscum Contagiosum?

The most common way that Molluscum Contagiosum is spread is through direct contact with someone who has the virus. Direct contact occurs from skin-to-skin touching, while indirect contact may result from the sharing of towels, clothing or soap. Public places where Molluscum Contagiosum is commonly spread include health clubs, gyms, saunas, locker rooms and public pools.

 

Is Molluscum Contagiosum contagious?

Yes, the Molluscum Contagiosum Virus (MCV), a member of the poxvirus family, is extremely contagious. If you contract the virus, or your child does, you should take careful steps to prevent the virus from spreading to those around you. Avoid sharing clothing, towels, bedding, toys (for kids) and other personal items that may transmit the disease to someone else.


What Are the Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum?

One of the unique challenges associated with Molluscum Contagiosum is the fact that incubation period for this virus is especially long. After initial exposure to the virus, it can take 6-8 weeks, if not longer, for lesions to appear. As you can imagine, that can make it difficult to discern when and where the virus originated.

Molluscum Contagiosum is categorized by clusters of small bumps on your skin. Unlike a rash, these bumps are usually flesh-toned, light pink or white in color. Additionally, the lesions are dome-shaped with a dimple in the center. Their appearance is so distinct that dermatologists can often diagnose the virus on sight. Another trademark characteristic of Molluscum Contagiosum bumps is the white, cheesy substance that they are filled with.

The most common areas of skin that people get Molluscum Contagiosum are:

  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Face
  • Shoulders
  • Abdomen

 

It’s important to note that children often spread Molluscum Contagiosum from one part of their body to another through autoinoculation — scratching that spreads the virus.

Despite their appearance, the bumps caused by this virus are typically not painful. They’re more of a nuisance than anything. The condition is more inconvenient than it is uncomfortable due to the precautions you must take to prevent spreading, as well as its unsightly appearance.

 

How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Treated?

 If you suspect that you or your child have been exposed, you won’t be able to treat the condition until lesions are present. Until then, it’s best to continue avoiding contact or unnecessary sharing with someone who has a confirmed infection. If you start noticing lesions, make an appointment with your dermatologist to decide the best course of action.

In most cases, Molluscum Contagiosum will go away on its own within six to twelve months, although the virus can stick around for up to two full years. Most patients prefer not to wait that long for things to get better, which is where a great dermatologist can help. While a doctor can’t make the problem disappear overnight, they can treat the virus to help make it more manageable and speed up recovery.

The most common treatments for Molluscum Contagiosum include:

  • Prescription medications
  • Over-the-Counter (OTC) medications
  • Topical creams and ointments
  • Laser procedures
  • Curettage
  • Freezing of lesions (cryotherapy)

 

While treatment may sometimes be painful, your dermatologist will do their best to make the experience as comfortable as possible, using anesthesia if needed. Once the lesions have cleared up completely, you’ll be able to stop treatment.

Patients who don’t require these measures run very little risk of developing scars, but those with more severe cases may experience scarring. Unfortunately, the virus can return if you come into contact with it again.

 

Early Detection Is Crucial

While Molluscum Contagiosum is not particularly dangerous, it’s important that you confirm your diagnosis as early as possible. Though you may be certain of your condition, an experienced dermatologist can decide if you need treatment and give you personalized advice to keep you from spreading the virus to those closest to you.

If you fear that you or someone you love may have contracted Molluscum Contagiosum, contact the experts at Windsor Dermatology today to schedule an appointment!