Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin rash seen in children - the rash consists of nodules with a central pit. It is very contagious and spreads easily.

This page answers these questions:

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What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

It is a skin rash that commonly occurs in young children.

It is caused by a virus called the pox virus - this is not the same as the chickenpox virus and it isn't the smallpox virus either.

The rash can be on any part of the body except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

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What does Molluscum Contagiosum look like?

The skin rash is quite distinctive. There are individual raised spots (nodules) that are pearly or pinkish in color, as you can see in the photo below.

They measure from 2 mm in diameter to about 5 mm in diameter. The center of the raised spot often has a little dimple (we call it an umbilicated center).

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Molluscum contagiosumMolluscum close ip
Molluscum contagiosumMolluscum contagiosum

How did my child get Molluscum?

The virus is usually passed from person to person or sometimes via shared towels.

If children scratch a spot they may pass the virus on when they touch something else.

These spots are common and the fact that your child has them does not mean you haven't be careful or clean.

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What are the other symptoms of this skin rash?

Usually the skin rash is all you get. Sometimes they spots can be itchy and sometimes they can get inflamed (look red) particularly if your child scratches them.

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How long does Molluscum Contagiosum last?

The spots usually go away by themselves within 18 months - some go in a shorter time and some take a bit longer. Once the spots go away, there is usually no scar, especially if you have managed to limit scratching.

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Are there any treatments for Molluscum Contagiosum?

In most cases, no treatment is required as the spots will eventually go by themselves. No treatment has been shown to be vastly better than just waiting. The treatments that have been tried are often painful and so children don't like them.

The most common treatments are:

simple trauma - the spot is squeezed so the central core (in the dimple part) is removed. Sometimes a cocktail stick eased down the side of the dimple will cause the core to come out. The core contains the virus so after a couple of weeks the spot will disappear. This can be painful for children. This is best done after a bath if you are going to try it.

cryotherapy - freezing has been used but again can be a painful procedure and might lead to scarring.

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Are there any special precautions to take when my child has Molluscum Contagiosum?

You should try and discourage scratching as that will only cause the rash to spread.

  • Covering the spots with clothes may limit spread
  • You child can still swim and go to school with the spots
  • Avoid sharing baths
  • Avoid sharing towels and flannels

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When should I see the doctor?

See your doctor if:

the spots and the area around them becomes very red or crusty - there may be an associated infection that requires antibiotics

the spots are around the eye region - your child may need a review by an eye specialist

your child has widespread spots and other symptoms such as poor growth that may indicate an immune problem

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References

  • Prodigy Guidance. http://www.prodigy.nhs.uk/molluscum_contagiosum/
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Last reviewed 16 May 2011

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.



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