Molluscum contagiosum is a common childhood skin infection caused by a virus. It causes small, red or flesh-coloured bumps and spots on children’s skin. Even though molluscum contagiosum isn’t serious, it can be hard to get rid of.
Causes of molluscum contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum is caused by the pox virus, which infects the skin.
It’s common in children and spreads through direct skin contact with an infected source. This source could be another child, infected face washers, heated pool water and so on.
The incubation period for the virus can be up to two months.
Symptoms of molluscum contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum shows up as clusters of small, red, pink or pearly raised spots, sometimes with a pit in the centre. The spots are usually 1-3 mm across, but they can get as big as 2 cm.
Molluscum contagiosum spots usually come up on the face, neck, inner thighs or buttocks, but they can come up anywhere.
Although molluscum contagiosum spots usually don’t cause any other symptoms, they can be itchy, especially if they come up on top of areas of eczema, which often develops in the surrounding skin.
Molluscum contagiosum spots aren’t painful.
They don’t scar unless they get infected with bacteria.
When to see a doctor about molluscum contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum usually clears up by itself somewhere between three months and three years. But during this time it can spread to other places on your child’s body or to other people, including siblings, parents and babysitters.
If you think your child might have molluscum contagiosum, it’s a good idea to see your GP to talk about treatment before the spots spread.
Molluscum contagiosum treatment
There’s no totally effective treatment for molluscum contagiosum. Some people prefer to wait for it to sort itself out.
You might decide to treat your child’s molluscum contagiosum to:
- improve the way the spots look
- prevent the spots from spreading to other parts of your child’s body, like the eyelids, lips or nose, which are hard to treat
- avoid spreading molluscum to other people
- prevent the spots from getting infected with bacteria, which can cause secondary scarring.
The most common treatment is gently removing the spots by pricking the centre of each one with a sterile needle and then taking out the core (although this last step isn’t essential). Don’t try this treatment at home without first seeing your doctor.
Many young children might find this treatment scary or uncomfortable, so think about your child’s age and how well she puts up with discomfort before going ahead with it. If your doctor does the treatment for you, the doctor will probably put a topical anaesthetic on your child’s skin first.
Another possible treatment involves gently freezing the spots with liquid nitrogen. A doctor will need to do this. This treatment might be a bit scary or uncomfortable for your child.
Diluted imiquimod cream can be useful, although it can take several weeks to work, and might cause skin irritation in some children. This cream needs to be prescribed by your doctor and made up by a pharmacist.
More aggressive treatments – for example, cantharidin – might cause scarring and should be discussed with your doctor.
Preventing the spread of molluscum contagiosum
To avoid spreading molluscum contagiosum to other children, your child should avoid heated pools and spas if possible. Also, don’t let your child share towels or baths with others.
To avoid the spots spreading to other parts of her skin, your child should shower rather than have a bath. Avoid reusing face washers.
Benzoyl peroxide solution or Burrow’s solution (aluminium acetate solution) can also help to stop the condition from spreading. These treatments might also encourage healing by stimulating an immune response.
If your child has atopic eczema as well as molluscum contagiosum, your doctor will treat the eczema with an appropriate topical steroid cream or ointment, along with other general eczema treatment measures.