Your Complete Guide to Molluscum Contagiosum

This is a picture of bacteria levitating in the middle of two hands.

Microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses can infect any part of your body, including the skin. Skin infections are widespread in the population. It is highly likely that you have a family member or friend who has complained of skin infection at least once in their life.

The skin is essential in protecting you from infections. It has normal flora, which are natural bacteria on your body that help protect your body from infections. When the skin is infected, you may be susceptible to infections by other microorganisms.

Skin infections can be bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic. Impetigo and cellulitis are common bacterial infections, while fungal skin infections include yeast infections and athlete’s foot. Similarly, warts and herpes virus infections are the most common viral infections, while lice and scabies, the most common skin parasitic infections. Bacterial skin infections are the most prevalent compared to the rest. Each type of skin infection has symptoms characteristic to it. Some symptoms are mild and easily manageable at home using over the counter medications, while others may need a prescription from your doctor.

Many people believe that skin infections are usually contagious, implying that skin-to-skin contact with an infected person guarantees an infection. Skin-to-skin contact can be direct or indirect through the sharing of personal items like towels and clothes. Although this may apply to certain skin infections, it is not true to all infections. Skin infections, like acne and dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, are not contagious. However, infections like ringworms, molluscum contagiosum, and scabies are contagious. Therefore, you should take proper precautions when living with a person with such conditions to avoid the infection.

What is molluscum and what does the disease look like?

Molluscum contagiosum is a rare viral skin infection. The virus Molluscum contagiosum is responsible for causing the infection, commonly in children. However, adults can also get the infection. Hot and humid environments encourage the growth of the virus, and therefore, infections are often seen during the summer. The infection is difficult to identify because it is not harmful. It might take weeks before you notice that something is wrong with your skin or that of your child.

Molluscum contagiosum infection appears as small bumps on your skin. The bumps resemble warts and can range from a pinkish to a whitish color. Though not painful, the bumps can be very itchy but can heal on their own if you do not seek medical advice. The length of the infection period will vary depending on your immune system and whether or not you seek medical assistance. The infection period can last up to 4 years and can be as little as two months with the right treatment. The period can last for more than four years if you have a weak immune system. Your immune system may be weak due to chronic diseases like HIV/AIDs.

What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Small bumps are the most distinguishing symptom of the infection. However, the bumps have specific characteristic symptoms that distinguish them from bumps caused by infections like boils and cherry angioma.

These characteristic symptoms include:

  1. The bumps are smooth and shiny.
  1. They have a pit in the middle.
  1. The bumps are itchy in most, but not all patients.
  1. Inflammation may occur on the bumps that cause them to swell.
  1. The bumps can be scraped off through a scratch.
  1. In children, the bumps are seen on the arms, armpits, neck, and face, while in adults, the area of the body affected will largely depend on the mode of transmission.
  1. The inside of the bump looks like it is filled with a waxy or cheesy material.
  1. The bumps occur in groups, usually of 20, within a single area.
  1. They are small in size, with the diameter ranging between 2 to 5 millimeters. The size may be as large as 15 millimeters if you have a weak immune system.

These symptoms are general to healthy individuals who get infected with the disease. However, more symptoms can occur if your immune system is weak.

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

The infection is contagious, and therefore, contact with the skin of an infected person or personal items of the person is the most common cause of molluscum contagiosum.

Children acquire the infection when they play with toys touched by another child infected with the virus. They can also acquire it through direct skin-to-skin contact while playing with children infected with the virus at home or school. Since the virus can live on objects, children can also acquire it through objects in the playground, such as the swing, when their skin comes into contact with the surface.

Adults usually acquire the disease in two ways, sexual intercourse and sports. Sports and gym equipment such as helmets and treadmills, respectively, are usually shared. Infected adults can contaminate the equipment, making the next person using the equipment susceptible to infection. Adults can also acquire the disease when they play a contact sport and come into skin-to-skin contact with the infected person.

Both adults and children can also indirectly acquire the disease when they come into contact with an infected person's personal items such as towels and clothes. Additionally, you can spread the infection when you scratch or touch the raised bumps and then touch another part of your body that is not infected.

Do I have molluscum contagiosum on my private part?

It is possible to have molluscum contagiosum on your private part, especially if you are a teen or adult. If you notice raised bumps on your private parts with symptoms similar to those mentioned earlier, then it is likely that you have the infection. An infection of your private parts occurs when you have sexual intercourse with someone who has the lesions on their genitals. Due to this, the infection is sometimes categorized as a sexually transmitted disease in adults rather than a skin infection because adults usually acquire it through sexual intercourse.

When you suspect that you have molluscum contagiosum on your private parts, it is advised that you seek immediate medical attention for tests to be done to avoid the spread of the disease.

Can you shave if you have molluscum?

This will depend on the areas affected. If you have molluscum contagiosum lesions in hairy areas such as the genitals and armpits, shaving is not advisable. This is because shaving increases the risk of spreading the infection to unaffected areas. When you shave, you scrape off the bump and can spread the infection to unaffected areas when you touch the area using the same razor.

If hairy areas of your body are unaffected, you can shave. However, make sure that the razor does not come into contact with an affected area while shaving because you might spread the infection.

What is the danger of having molluscum contagiosum?

Usually, the danger associated with a molluscum contagiosum infection is minimal. The danger is more likely if you have a weak immune system. However, risk can arise in healthy individuals when you develop complications. These can include:

  1. Lesions can appear on the eyelids or eye to cause conjunctivitis or keratitis. The former is an infection of the inner eyelid, while the latter, an infection of the cornea. The two can lead to blurred vision and itchiness of the eyes due to inflammation. You can also develop complications when left untreated and lead to issues such as corneal scarring and blindness.
  1. The lesions can develop a secondary infection when you scratch them.
  1. The infection also leaves behind scars after the lesions have healed.

Is molluscum similar to HIV?

Although it is a virus, molluscum contagiosum is not similar to HIV. Molluscum contagiosum is a poxvirus, while HIV is a retrovirus. HIV is an RNA virus with reverse transcriptase, an enzyme responsible for copying the RNA into DNA that can infect your body. In contrast, molluscum contagiosum is a double-stranded DNA virus that directly affects the body.

Unlike HIV, molluscum contagiosum does not weaken your immune system and make it insufficient to fight off diseases. HIV weakens the immune system making you susceptible to developing severe symptoms compared to those seen in healthy individuals. For example, in HIV patients, molluscum contagiosum appears as giant lesions with a diameter of 15 millimeters, while in healthy individuals, the diameter does not go beyond 4 millimeters.

Additionally, when infected with molluscum contagiosum, your body is capable of fighting off infections like tuberculosis and pneumonia, while HIV makes you susceptible to such diseases.

The presentation of the two diseases is also different; molluscum contagiosum has skin manifestations that are present throughout the infection. In contrast, HIV patients hardly have skin manifestations when they are on drugs.

How can we cure molluscum?

The treatment will depend on the area affected, your age, and the strength of your immune system. You need treatment if lesions are in your genital area; lesions in other areas usually heal without treatment. There are three main treatment options:

1. Oral medications.

Oral medications such as cimetidine are preferentially given to children. This is because this option is not painful and can be done from home under the parent's supervision. Cimetidine is safe but is not as effective in treating lesions present on the face as lesions in other parts of the body. This treatment option is also associated with fewer scars compared to physical removal.

2. Topical medications.

There are several options for topical medications available to both adults and children. They are safer because they are only applied to the affected area; therefore, they have little to no systemic effect. Topical drugs include:

  • Podophyllotoxin cream.

This is the preferred topical agent for men and women. It is not safe for pregnant women because it is suspected to have fetal toxicity.

  • Iodine.

The downside of iodine is that it causes stains on the skin and clothes, making it less convenient.

  • Imiquimod.

This cream is contraindicated in children because of the side effects it can cause.

  • Cantharidin.
  • Tretinoin.
  • Salicylic acid.

3. Physical removal of the lesions.

Physical removal of lesions is painful and usually leaves behind scars. However, the procedures are fast and are effective in getting rid of lesions. Also, physical removal requires professional medical physicians to do it. You should not do it yourself because you will spread the infection to unaffected areas.

A professional will first locally anesthetize the affected area before starting the procedure. Three main procedures are involved in the physical removal of the lesions.

They include:

  • Cryotherapy.
  • Laser therapy.
  • Curettage.

If you have a weak immune system, you will receive treatment options that aim at improving your immune system. This is because any form of treatment will likely fail so long as your immune system is not adequate to defend itself. However, these patients can be given intralesional interferon and radiation therapy as treatment options.

How to get rid of molluscum fast?

The fastest way to get rid of molluscum contagiosum is by physically removing the lesions. This is done by a professional health physical and involves the use of anesthesia because the procedure is painful.

Fast removal is only recommended for adults because of the pain associated with it. Cryotherapy, curettage, and laser therapy are some of the methods that get rid of molluscum fast. Cryotherapy involves the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the lesion and then scape it off gently. On the other hand, curettage refers to the surgical removal of cheesy material in the lesion by piercing its core.

How to get rid of scars from molluscum contagiosum?

Scars are common when you have undergone physical removal procedures such as cryotherapy. The scars can lower your self-esteem, especially if they are present in visible areas of the body, such as the face and neck. Luckily, some home remedies can help you get rid of the scars.

  1. Coconut oil applied to the skin once or twice daily can help eliminate scars and leave your skin looking radiant.
  1. Use leaves of the neem tree to get rid of scars. You first need to boil the leaves and then use the extract in your bath every day. Neem extract has significant skin benefits such as antiviral properties to boost your immune system against the infection.
  1. Lemon juice is also useful in getting rid of scars that are hyperpigmented because it has vitamin C.

How to prevent getting molluscum contagiosum?

There are several ways through which you can prevent infection with molluscum contagiosum. They include:

  1. Frequently wash your hands with soap and water and also teach your kids to do the same.
  1. Do not use the personal belongings of someone else, such as towels.
  1. Do not scratch or pierce lesions if you are infected.
  1. Do not shave affected areas.
  1. Do not have sexual intercourse if you have lesions in your genital area.
  1. Do not swim if you are infected.
  1. Take a break from contact sports such as wrestling if you are infected.
  1. Always clean the affected area and cover the lesion using bandages.

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