Causes of molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a 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. That is, the virus infects your child up to two months before symptoms appear.

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.

Most molluscum contagiosum spots disappear without leaving a mark. Sometimes they leave a scar like that caused by chicken pox.

When to see a doctor about molluscum contagiosum

If you think your child might have molluscum contagiosum, it’s a good idea to see your GP.

Molluscum contagiosum treatment

Many children don’t need treatment for molluscum contagiosum. The spots usually clear up by themselves somewhere between three months and three years after your child gets them.

Treatment for molluscum contagiosum might be recommended for some children. This might be to:

  • improve the way the spots look, particularly if the spots are somewhere obvious, like the face
  • reduce the risk of spots spreading to other parts of the body, like the eyelids, lips or nose, which are harder to treat
  • reduce the risk of spreading molluscum to other people
  • reduce the risk of scarring.

There are several treatments that can be used to treat molluscum contagiosum, but there’s no totally effective treatment.

Your GP might suggest leaving sticky, waterproof tape on top of the spots for a few days. When you pull the tape off, the central core of the spots might pull off too. You can do tape stripping at home, and you might need to do it several times.

Sometimes the GP might suggest creams like benzyl peroxide or retinoid cream. These can irritate your child’s skin, so it’s a good idea to talk through this option with your GP.

Imiquimod is another option. This cream can be expensive but it’s good for sensitive areas like the genitals and face.

Cantharadin is a lotion that causes blisters to form under the spots so that the spots lift off. The lotion is painless, but your GP will probably have to refer your child to a dermatologist for this treatment.

Other treatments include removing the central core of the spots with a needle, freezing the spots with liquid nitrogen, or scraping the spots with a small surgical tool. These treatments can be scary, painful and lead to scarring, so they’re best avoided in children under eight years old.

If your child has eczema as well as molluscum contagiosum, your doctor will treat the eczema with an appropriate corticosteroid cream or ointment, along with other general eczema treatment measures.

When you’re thinking about a molluscum contagiosum treatment for your child, it’s a good idea to weigh the costs and side effects against the possible benefits. Because no treatment is totally effective for this condition, it’s possible that your child might not get the results you’re hoping for.

Preventing the spread of molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum can spread to other places on your child’s body or to other people, including siblings, parents and babysitters.

To reduce the spread of molluscum contagiosum to other children, don’t let your child share towels, clothes and baths.

Try to stop your child from scratching or picking at the spots.

Molluscum contagiosum is common and not dangerous. There’s no reason for your child to stop going to swimming pools, child care or school.