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What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is generally a benign, viral infection which produces bumps that look like small warts. In adults, the bumps are usually present on the thighs, buttocks, groin and lower abdomen.  In children, the bumps typically appear on the trunk, legs and arms.

While the symptoms often resolve on their own, they can be unsightly, uncomfortable, and contagious. Once considered a disease primarily affecting children, it has evolved to become a sexually transmissible disease in adults passed on by skin-to-skin contact.  MCV does not have to be transmitted sexually, however.  It may be passed on from objects such as "infected" towels or clothing used by someone else with the lesions or even by swimming or bathing with an infected person.  These bumps can last from 2 weeks to 4 years, although people with AIDS or otherwise compromised immune systems may develop more extensive outbreaks.

No treatment is usually necessary except for the itchiness. In severe-or severely annoying-cases, these lesions can be removed with surgical, cryotherapy or laser treatment, although that is not usually necessary.  Lesions can also be treated with a chemical agent such as podophyllin, cantharidin, phenol, silver nitrate, trichloracetic acid or iodine.

For itchiness, I recommend trying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream; if that doesn't work, you can ask your doctor for a prescription remedy.  Those affected should avoid touching the bumps and then touching another part of your body without washing your hands first; this may help to prevent the spread of the infection.  It is also important to take measures to prevent anyone else from coming into contact with the affected areas of your skin.

Lesions may recur, but it is not clear whether this is due to reinfection, exacerbation of subclinical infection, or reactivation of latent infection. The best way to prevent getting this infection is to prevent skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Created: 11/13/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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