A viral infection producing multiple shiny, pearly-white pimples
- More common in children
- Close skin contact and, in some cases, sexual contact with an infected person are risk factors
- Gender and genetics are not significant factors
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection in which pimples appear in clusters on the trunk and at the tops of the arms and legs. The condition is harmless but contagious and is spread by close skin contact. It is common in children, especially in those with atopic eczema, probably because they scratch their skin, and this allows the virus to enter (see Eczema in children). In adults, molluscum contagiosum is usually spread through sexual contact. In such cases, the pimples tend to occur on the lower abdomen, genitals, and thighs. The condition is more common and often more severe in people whose immune systems are weakened by disorders such as AIDS (see HIV infection and AIDS) or by treatment with immunosuppressants.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of molluscum contagiosum begin 2–8 weeks after infection. A single, itchy pimple appears, and the infection then spreads to form a cluster of pimples. The pimples are:
Approximately 3–6 mm (
1 / 8 1 / 4
Smooth and pearly-white or pink.
Dome-shaped with a tiny depression in the centre.
Molluscum contagiosum is not painful, but large pimples may bleed if they become caught on clothing.
What might be done?
Children with molluscum contagiosum are usually not treated because treatment may leave small scars and can be painful. The condition usually clears up by itself within 12 months. In adults, the pimples may be removed for cosmetic reasons. Your doctor may pierce them with a small probe, squeeze them with a pair of forceps, or scrape away a thin layer of skin under the pimples.
To prevent spread across the body, do not scratch the pimples. Avoid close physical contact and do not share towels or face flannels so that others are not infected. The condition can recur if you are re-exposed to infection or if your immune system becomes weakened.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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