Molluscum Contagiosum Skin Disease

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Molluscum contagiosum is a skin disease. Around the world, it most often affects young children  and adults who have weakened immune systems. It is transmitted by direct skin contact. That means that it can be transmitted during sexual contact. It is caused by a type of poxvirus.

What Are the Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum?

Infection with the molluscum contagiosum virus causes raised fluid-filled bumps on the skin.

These bumps range from the size of a pinhead to the size of a pencil eraser. They usually have a small dimple or pit in the middle. Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, may get larger bumps, up to the size of a dime, or groups of atypical bumps. 

In most people, the bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum are painless. However, the bumps can become itchy, irritated, swollen, or sore. If the bumps become uncomfortable, it is important to avoid scratching them. Scratching can cause the virus to spread, or leave your skin susceptible to secondary infections with other bacteria.

Molluscum contagiosum infections are generally easy to handle, for people with healthy immune systems. They can be substantially more problematic in people with uncontrolled HIV. In rare cases, disseminated infections can develop. These can be disfiguring. 

How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Diagnosed?

Any and all strange bumps on the skin should be examined by a healthcare provider.

That is particuarly true if they appear in the genital area. Your physician should be able to diagnose the virus based on a physical examination. Sometimes a biopsy is necessary.

As the bumps caused by mollscum are painless, you may not notice an infection. Visual examination of the genital area is the primary way that these infections are detected.

Molluscum contagiosum would not be detected through urine or blood tests. 

How is Molluscum Contagiosum Treated?

Molluscum contagiosum should only be treated by a healthcare professional. Treatments advocated on the Internet may actually cause more harm than good. At your doctor's office, the bumps can be frozen off, removed with lasers, treated with creams, or drained using special techniques. In most cases, the molluscum bumps will heal on their own in 6-12 months if left untreated.

Once the bumps are gone, the infection is considered to be cured. Molluscum contagiosum does not have a dormant phase like herpes or HPV.

How is Molluscum Contagiosum Spread?

Molluscum contagiosum is spread by skin-to-skin contact. It can also be spread by contact with objects, such as clothing or towels, that have been contaminated by the virus. If you have been infected with the virus, you should cover all bumps on skin with waterproof bandages. This will reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others. It is also a good idea to avoid sharing clothing, towels, and toys with infected individuals. Finally, wash your hands after touching any of your own molluscum contagiosum bumps so as to avoid transmitting the virus to other areas of your skin.

As molluscum contagiosum is spread from skin to skin, safe sex can not entirely prevent transmission. However, reliably practicing safe sex should reduce some transmission of the virus. In addition, there is some evidence that having pubic hair may reduce the risk of molluscum transmission. At least two studies have found evidence of more infections in people who shave or wax their pubic hair.

The link between pubic hair removal and skin STDs, such as molluscum, may or may not be related to the biology of the STDs. It could also be because people who groom their pubic hair also tend to be having more sex.

That stated, if there is a real association between pubic hair removal and molluscum risk, it is probably due to a combination of factors. There is a greater chance of skin to skin contact without the padding from pubic hair. There is also a chance that broken skin could be more susceptible to infection. Finally, lesions could spread, during the hair removal process. 

Molluscum Contagiosum in Children

Not all molluscum contagiosum infections are spread sexually. Indeed, the majority of cases seen in children are spread through casual contact. Therefore, parents should not be concerned by a diagnosis of molloscum contagiosum in their children. It is a very common viral skin infection seen in young people. 

Sources

Azevedo T, Catarino A, Ferreira L, Borges F, Mansinho K. Disseminated molluscum contagiosum lesions in an HIV patient. Cleve Clin J Med. 2017 Mar;84(3):186-187. doi: 10.3949/ccjm.84a.16070.

Fernando I, Pritchard J, Edwards SK, Grover D. UK national guideline for the management of Genital Molluscum in adults, 2014 Clinical Effectiveness Group, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. Int J STD AIDS. 2015 Sep;26(10):687-95. doi: 10.1177/0956462414554435.

Osterberg EC, Gaither TW, Awad MA, Truesdale MD, Allen I, Sutcliffe S, Breyer BN. Correlation between pubic hair grooming and STIs: results from a nationally representative probability sample. Sex Transm Infect. 2016 Dec 5. pii: sextrans-2016-052687. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2016-052687.

Rayala BZ, Morrell DS. Common Skin Conditions in Children: Skin Infections. FP Essent. 2017 Feb;453:26-32.

Veraldi S, Nazzaro G, Ramoni S. Pubic hair removal and molluscum contagiosum. Int J STD AIDS. 2016 Jul;27(8):699-700. doi: 10.1177/0956462415599491.

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