Molluscum Contagiosum Facts (cont.)

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What causes molluscum contagiosum?

The cause is a virus, a member of the poxvirus family. The virus only survives in the skin, and when the lesions are gone, the person no longer is contagious.

What are risk factors for molluscum contagiosum?

The highest risk factor is when an uninfected person touches a skin lesion on an infected person's skin or contacts an item such as a towel that was recently used by an infected person. People with weakened immune systems are at risk for getting the infection and having it rapidly spread with larger lesions. Other people at high risk are wrestlers, swimmers, gymnasts, and people who use steam baths and saunas. It's also possible to transmit the infection sexually.

What are molluscum contagiosum symptoms and signs?

The first signs and symptoms of molluscum contagiosum are small painless papules (raised bumps) on the skin. It often appears as a raised, a pearly pinkish nodule; some nodules contain a dimple in the center. Most lesions are small, about 2-5 mm in diameter. Inside the nodule, sometimes there is a cheesy whitish core. The lesions may become itchy, sore, and reddened if scratched. The lesions can appear anywhere on the body (face, mouth, or vagina, for example).

How do physicians diagnose molluscum contagiosum?

Presumptive diagnosis is based on the person's history and physical exam. A skin biopsy that shows the viral infection is a definitive diagnosis usually made by a pathologist. This definitive diagnosis is sometimes helpful to distinguish molluscum contagiosum from other skin problems like herpes, genital warts (HPV), hives, or folliculitis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014