Molluscum Contagiosum Fact Sheet
Updated January 2014
Molluscum is a skin infection caused by the molluscum contagiosumvirus.
Molluscum can be passed on by direct contact with a molluscum lesion (bump) on the skin of an infected person. The virus can also be spread through contact with contaminated objects, such as towels, clothing, or toys. If a person has molluscum, they can spread it to another part of their own body by scratching or picking at the bump or shaving the affected area. In adults, the virus is usually spread through sexual contact.
Signs and Symptoms
After a person comes in contact with molluscum, it may take anywhere from 1 week to 6 months for symptoms to appear. The virus causes small, white, pink or flesh coloured round, raised, bumps on the skin. They often have a dip in the middle, filled with a firm white substance. Molluscum bumps are usually 2 to 5 millimetres in diameter but rarely can be larger. There may be only one bump or many bumps together.
A person can get molluscum on any part of their body. However, on adults it is most common to find them on the abdomen, genitals and inner thighs. There is usually no pain, inflammation or redness unless the lesions have been irritated or scratched.
Diagnosis and Tests
An experienced health care provider can usually tell if a person has molluscum by looking at the lesion (bumps). However, molluscum may be mistaken for warts or in-grown hair follicles.
The most common complication is a secondary bacterial infection at the site of the molluscum lesion. Scarring can also occur if there is excessive scratching of the lesions.
The bumps usually disappear on their own in six to twelve months. Rarely, it can take several years for molluscum to resolve. Treatment can help prevent spreading the infection to other people by removing the bumps. Once all of the bumps are gone the virus is gone but you can get infected again. There are several ways to remove the molluscum bumps. Commonly your health care provider may suggest removing the bumps by freezing or scraping or applying prescription creams to the growths. Treatment may cause permanent scarring or changes in the colour of the skin. Scarring may be more noticeable in dark-skinned people.
Here are a few important points to remember:
- Avoid sexual contact or close body contact with anyone until all of the molluscum bumps are gone.
- Avoid shaving or scratching the bumps. They can spread to other parts of your body.
- When possible cover the bumps with a bandage to avoid scratching and spreading the virus.
- Do not share towels, clothing, washcloths or other personal items.
- The virus lives on the skin and once all the bumps are gone, the virus is gone. You can be re-infected if you come in contact with the virus again.
- Male and female condoms may not fully protect you, as the virus can be on areas of the skin not covered by the condom. Nonetheless, condoms should still be used every time to protect against other STIs and HIV.
Information for Sexual Partners
It is important to inform any sexual partner(s) or anyone who has had direct contact with the lesion so that they can be checked and treated if necessary.
Call Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600 (TTY at 416-392-0658) or speak to your health care provider.