What to Know About Molluscum Contagiosum (2023)

Molluscum contagiosum is an infection that causes small bumps on the skin and can be spread through contact with a virus. Though it often heals on its own, several treatment options are also available.

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a virus of the same name. It produces benign, raised bumps, or lesions, on the upper layers of your skin.

The small bumps are usually painless. They resolve without treatment and rarely leave scars. The length of time the virus lasts varies for each person, but the bumps can remain from 2 months to 4 years.

Molluscum contagiosum (M. contagiosum) transmits between people through direct skin contact with someone who has the virus or by touching an object that the virus has contaminated, like a towel or a piece of clothing.

Medication and surgical treatments are available, but you won’t need them most of the time. The virus can be more difficult to treat or cause more severe effects if you have a weakened immune system.

In this article, we explain the symptoms, causes, and treatments for molluscum contagiosum.

If you or your child comes into contact with the M. contagiosum virus, you may not see symptoms of infection for up to 6 months. These symptoms usually take between 2 and 7 weeks to show from the moment you acquire the molluscum contagiosum virus.

You may notice the appearance of a small group of painless lesions. These bumps can appear alone or in a patch of as many as 20. They’re usually:

  • very small, shiny, and smooth in appearance
  • flesh-colored, white, or pink
  • firm and shaped like a dome with a dent or dimple in the middle
  • filled with a central core of waxy material
  • between 2 to 5 millimeters in diameter, or between the size of the head of a pin and the size of an eraser on the top of a pencil
  • present anywhere except on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet — specifically on the face, abdomen, torso, arms, and legs of children, or the inner thigh, genitals, and abdomen of adults

Most presentations of molluscum contagiosum heal without treatment. But some people experience complications, including:

  • impetigo, or a skin infection that develops after scratching the lesions
  • conjunctivitis, an eye infection that may develop if lesions occur on the eyelid
  • disseminated secondary eczema, which might occur as a result of overreaction to the virus by your immune system
  • widespread molluscum contagiosum that are larger than usual, often on the face (this often develops in people with reduced immunity)
  • sudden scarring with a pitted appearance, either spontaneously or due to lesion removal surgery

Molluscum contagiosum occurs when you acquire the M. contagiosum virus, a type of poxvirus.

This virus can transmit between people while lesions are visible. It’s also possible to transmit the virus from one area of skin on your own body to another part.

There are a number of ways that M. contagiosum passes between people, including:

  • Skin contact with a person who carries the infection. You can get molluscum contagiosum by touching the lesions on the skin of a person who has this infection. Children can transmit the virus during normal play with other children. Teens and adults are more likely to contract it through sexual contact. You can also become infected during contact sports that involve touching bare skin, like wrestling or football.
  • Contact with surfaces that a person with molluscum contagiosum has touched. The virus can survive on surfaces that has made contact with the skin. It’s possible to contract the virus by handling contaminated towels, clothing, toys, or other items.
  • Sharing sports equipment that has had contact with a person who has molluscum contagiosum. The virus can remain on equipment for transmission to another person. This includes items like baseball gloves, wrestling mats, and football helmets.
  • Internal spread. If you have molluscum contagiosum, you might spread the infection throughout your body. You can transfer the virus from one part of your body to another by touching, scratching, or shaving a bump and then touching another part of your body.

Transmission seems to take place more in wet environments, like during children’s shared swimming classes. If skin lesions are no longer visible, the virus can no longer pass from your body to that of another person.

Anyone can get molluscum contagiosum, but certain groups of people are more likely to acquire the virus and experience symptoms than others. These groups include:

  • children between the ages of 1 and 10 years
  • people who live in tropical climates
  • people with weakened immune systems due to organ transplants, cancer treatments, or living with health issues that affect the immune system like HIV
  • people who have atopic dermatitis, a common form of eczema that causes scaly, itchy rashes
  • people who participate in contact sports in which skin-to-skin contact is common, like wrestling or football,

The skin bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum have a distinct appearance. For this reason, your doctor can often diagnose molluscum contagiosum by physically examining the affected area.

They may confirm the diagnosis using a skin scraping or biopsy.

You should always have your doctor examine any skin lesions that last longer than a few days, even though molluscum contagiosum is unlikely to require treatment. A confirmed diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum will rule out other causes for the lesions, like:

  • skin cancer
  • chickenpox
  • warts

If you need help finding a primary care doctor, then check out our FindCare tool here.

Most people with a healthy immune system won’t need to seek treatment for molluscum contagiosum. These bumps usually fade away without medical intervention.

When to see a doctor about molluscum contagiosum

Some circumstances may make you a good candidate for treatment:

  • your lesions are large and located on your face and neck
  • you have an existing health problem that causes skin effects, like atopic dermatitis
  • you have concerns about spreading the virus
  • you’ve received treatment or acquired a health problem that reduces your immune activity

Medical treatments for molluscum contagiosum

A doctor can perform one of several effective treatments for molluscum contagiosum. These include:

  • Cryotherapy. The doctor freezes each bump with liquid nitrogen.
  • Curettage. The doctor pierces the bump and scrapes it off the skin with a small tool.
  • Laser therapy. The doctor uses a laser to destroy each bump.
  • Topical therapy. The doctor applies creams containing acids or chemicals to the bumps to induce peeling of the top layers of the skin. Topical therapy creams may contain iodine and salicylic acid, tretinoin, cantharidin (a blistering agent that a doctor usually applies), and imiquimod (T cell modifier)

These techniques can be painful and cause scarring for some people. Anesthesia may also be necessary during the procedure.

Since these methods involve treating each bump, a procedure may require more than one session. If you have many large bumps, additional treatment may be necessary every 3 to 6 weeks until the bumps disappear. New bumps may appear as the existing ones heal.

Prescribed medications for molluscum contagiosum

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe the following medications:

  • creams that contain iodine and salicylic acid or potassium hydroxide
  • trichloroacetic acid
  • topical podophyllotoxin cream (Condylox)
  • cantharidin (Cantharone), a blistering agent that a doctor usually applies
  • imiquimod (Aldara), a T cell modifier (although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don’t recommend its use in children, as it hasn’t been proven effective and can cause severe side effects)

If you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding or chestfeeding, let your doctor know about your status before taking these medications or any others. For example, podophyllotoxin cream may be safe for people assigned male at birth, but people who are pregnant should avoid it, as its ingredients might be toxic to your fetus.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the most effective treatment for people who live with HIV if they contract molluscum contagiosum. It can help strengthen the immune system and fight the virus.

Seek consultation with your doctor before attempting any treatments for molluscum contagiosum.

In people with a healthy immune system, molluscum contagiosum will usually resolve without treatment. Typically, this happens gradually within 6 to 12 months and without scarring.

But for some, it may take from a few months up to a few years for the bumps to disappear. The infection can be more persistent and last even longer for people with immune system problems.

Once the lesions fade, the M. contagiosum virus is no longer present in your body. When this happens, you can’t spread the virus to other people or parts of your body. You’ll only see more bumps if another infection develops.

If you’ve had molluscum contagiosum once, you can still get the infection again.

The best way to prevent getting molluscum contagiosum is to avoid touching the skin of another person who has the infection. Following these suggestions can also help you prevent the spread of the infection:

  • Practice effective hand washing with warm water and soap.
  • Instruct children in hand-washing techniques since they’re more likely to use touch in play and interaction with others.
  • Avoid sharing personal items. This includes towels, clothing, hairbrushes, or bar soaps.
  • Avoid using shared sports gear that may have come in direct contact with someone else’s bare skin.
  • Avoid picking at or touching areas of your skin where the bumps are visible.
  • Keep the bumps clean and covered to prevent yourself or others from touching them and spreading the virus.
  • Avoid shaving or using electrolysis where the bumps are located.
  • Avoid sexual contact if you have bumps in the genital area.


What to Know About Molluscum Contagiosum? ›

Molluscum contagiosum is an infection caused by a poxvirus

Poxviruses are brick or oval-shaped viruses with large double-stranded DNA genomes. Poxviruses exist throughout the world and cause disease in humans and many other types of animals. Poxvirus infections typically result in the formation of lesions, skin nodules, or disseminated rash.
https://www.cdc.gov › poxvirus
(molluscum contagiosum virus). The result of the infection is usually a benign, mild skin disease characterized by lesions (growths) that may appear anywhere on the body.

What not to do with molluscum? ›

Don't scratch or pick at molluscum lesions

It is important not to touch, pick, or scratch skin that has lesions, that includes not only your own skin but anyone else's. Picking and scratching can spread the virus to other parts of the body and makes it easier to spread the disease to other people too.

What you need to know about molluscum? ›

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a virus of the same name. It produces benign, raised bumps, or lesions, on the upper layers of your skin. The small bumps are usually painless. They resolve without treatment and rarely leave scars.

What triggers molluscum? ›

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.

What is the fastest way to get rid of molluscum contagiosum? ›

Cryosurgery: Your dermatologist applies an extremely cold substance to each molluscum bump. This extreme cold can effectively destroy the bumps. Because new molluscum can form, you will need to return for treatment every 2 to 3 weeks until the bumps clear.

Can molluscum live on sheets? ›

Fomites are inanimate objects that can become contaminated with virus; in the instance of molluscum contagiosum this can include linens such as clothing and towels, bathing sponges, pool equipment, and toys.

Is molluscum a std? ›

Molluscum contagiosum is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in adults as it can be spread by skin-to-skin contact during sex. It's characterised by small, smooth, round, pearly lumps with a central core. The infection usually resolves itself, but treatment can shorten the length of symptoms.

Is it best to leave molluscum alone? ›

Treat the bumps only if your dermatologist or other health care provider recommends doing so. If you try to remove the bumps on your own or squeeze out the fluid inside, you risk spreading the virus to other parts of your body. Keep the bumps clean and wash your hands after touching the molluscum.

Should you keep molluscum covered? ›

If you have molluscum on other areas, you can reduce the likelihood of spread to others by covering the bumps during the day with clothing or a bandage.

Should I be worried if I have molluscum? ›

Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin disease that is caused by a virus. The disease is generally mild and should not be a reason for concern or worry. Molluscum infection causes small white, pink, or flesh-colored bumps or growths with a dimple or pit in the center.

How do I fight molluscum in my immune system? ›

If molluscum contagiosum is severe or recurs, this suggests that the immune system is struggling to fight off the virus. To boost immune function, people can try: eating a balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthful fats.

How do you know molluscum is healing? ›

The molluscum bumps themselves may become red and swollen, sometimes forming pus-filled pimples. This is usually a good sign that the immune system is fighting the virus and starting to clear the infection. When molluscum bumps go away, they may leave pink-purple or white spots that fade over time.

Can I catch molluscum from my child? ›

Molluscum contagiosum doesn't spread easily from person to person and outbreaks are rare. It can spread by direct (skin-to-skin) contact with bumps, or indirect contact (e.g., bedding contaminated with material from the bumps, sharing of towels).

How long is molluscum contagious for? ›

The contagious period is unknown. People can spread the infection until the soft white core comes out of the center of their bumps. After that, the bumps will begin to heal and the risk of spreading the infections will be very low. In general, contagiousness is low and reinfection is possible, but not common.

How long does molluscum usually last? ›

Within 6-12 months, Molluscum contagiosum typically resolves without scarring but may take as long as 4 years. The lesions, known as Mollusca, are small, raised, and usually white, pink, or flesh-colored with a dimple or pit in the center. They often have a pearly appearance.

What are the final stages of molluscum contagiosum? ›

These lesions will burst on their own, this is the final stage which involves burst pus-filled papules forming red sores (fourth image from the left). These sores can become infected with bacteria if not properly cared for, leading to secondary infections.

How do you shower with molluscum? ›

Give your child showers instead of baths. The molluscum virus can spread to other parts of the body through the bath water. If your child does have a bath, don't share baths with other children and avoid bath toys. The virus can be spread when drying with a towel, so try to dry areas with the molluscum spots last.

Does hydrogen peroxide help molluscum? ›

Hydrogen peroxide (HP) is a powerful oxidizing agent and antiseptic that can inactivate poxvirus in vitro. 21 Treatment with HP, which is sold outside of Spain in a 1% cream, resulted in complete resolution of lesions in an 8-month-old patient with genital MC when applied at every diaper change for 1 week.

Can molluscum spread on toilet seat? ›

Molluscum contagiosum is easily transferred. The virus may be transmitted via direct contact with others (skin-to-skin contact) or by touching contaminated objects or surfaces.

Is molluscum a form of HPV? ›

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus in the poxvirus family. This is different from the human papilloma virus (HPV) family that causes warts, but these two conditions are commonly discussed together because they are contagious viral diseases that cause skin lesions.

What happens if molluscum contagiosum is left untreated? ›

Molluscum contagiosum is a mild, harmless viral skin infection. The virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact and mainly by sexual activity in adults. It appears on the skin surface as a small, raised, round, pearly lump. If left untreated the virus will eventually go away.

Can you spread molluscum by kissing? ›

The cause of MC is the virus named MCV (molluscum contagiosum virus). This virus is able to spread through the below ways: Personal contact – This includes coming into contact with the skin of an infected person through embracing, kissing or touching.

Can molluscum live on clothes after washing? ›

As stated earlier, the water wart virus can live and survive on inanimate objects and will remain on surfaces such as clothing, gym equipment, towels, among other types of surfaces for some time.

Can molluscum be spread by soap? ›

Maintain good hygiene.

In addition, children with molluscum should avoid sharing a bath with others. Avoid sharing personal items, such as clothing, towels, hair brushes, and bars of soap, since they can all harbor the virus and spread it to others.

Does duct tape get rid of molluscum? ›

If covered with duct tape, they may go away in 2 or 3 months. If picked at often, they can become infected with bacteria. If this happens, they change into crusty sores (impetigo).

How do you wash clothes with molluscum? ›

Wash clothing, sheets, washcloths, and towels of person with molluscum contagiosum in hot water. Keep infected area(s) covered with clothing or bandage(s) while at child care. Keep fingernails short (clip at home) to decrease spread by scratching.

Does apple cider vinegar get rid of molluscum? ›

The treatment may involve scraping, burning, freezing or chemically damaging the bumps. These methods are painful and may scar. Bumps should not be picked or scraped due to risk of infection or spreading the virus. One home treatment that seems to work well is apple cider vinegar.

What cream is best for molluscum contagiosum? ›


Can my kid go to daycare with molluscum? ›

There is no reason to keep a child with molluscum infection home from day care or school. If you notice lesions on a child's skin, it is reasonable to inform the child's parents and to request a doctor's note.

Where did my child get molluscum contagiosum? ›

Children can get molluscum contagiosum by skin-to-skin contact with a person who has it. The problem is found worldwide but is thought to be more common in hot, humid environments.

Is molluscum serious? ›

Molluscum contagiosum is an infection that causes spots on the skin. It's usually harmless and rarely needs treatment.

Why is molluscum called water warts? ›

As the name suggests, this infection is extremely contagious and is spread person to person by physical contact. Sometimes they are called “water warts” because they are spread in the pool and shared tubs as well. The bumps are usually painless but may be itchy, cosmetically undesirable and can last for up to 2 years.

What does molluscum look like when popped? ›

Each lump (molluscum) looks like a small swelling on the skin and is round, firm and about 2-5 mm across. A tiny dimple often develops on the top of each molluscum. If you squeeze a molluscum, a white cheesy fluid comes out.

Does water make molluscum worse? ›

Some investigations report that spread of molluscum contagiosum is increased in swimming pools. However, it has not been proved how or under what circumstances swimming pools might increase spread of the virus.

Does washing clothes get rid of molluscum? ›

The molluscum virus can thrive in dark, damp, warm environments indefinitely. Wash towels, clothing and bathing suits after use in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly and heat dry to kill the virus.

When is molluscum no longer contagious? ›

The contagious period is unknown. People can spread the infection until the soft white core comes out of the center of their bumps. After that, the bumps will begin to heal and the risk of spreading the infections will be very low. In general, contagiousness is low and reinfection is possible, but not common.

Can you go in a pool with molluscum? ›

Children with molluscum contagiosum who have open sores or skin breaks should avoid using the pool because of other infectious risks (bacterial and mycobacterial infections).

What is the longest molluscum can last? ›

Treatment of molluscum contagiosum

The infection can last up to 2 years, although each lump generally disappears after 2 to 3 months. If you are worried or uncomfortable, or have another medical condition, your doctor may prescribe a cream or freeze the lumps.

Can my child go to daycare with molluscum contagiosum? ›

There is no reason to keep a child with molluscum infection home from day care or school. If you notice lesions on a child's skin, it is reasonable to inform the child's parents and to request a doctor's note.

Can Apple cider vinegar remove molluscum? ›

The treatment may involve scraping, burning, freezing or chemically damaging the bumps. These methods are painful and may scar. Bumps should not be picked or scraped due to risk of infection or spreading the virus. One home treatment that seems to work well is apple cider vinegar.


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