Mollusca Contagiosa: Symptoms and Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Mollusca contagiosa is a virus that causes a unique skin condition: a rash that looks like little pearls on the skin's surface. Read this lesson to learn how this virus is contracted, who is most likely to catch it, and how it's treated.

What Is Mollusca Contagiosa?

Let's break this medical term into two parts. First: Mollusca. I don't know about you, but the first thing I think about are mollusks, those little shelled creatures that live in the water. Second: contagiosa. I immediately think of something that is contagious. While the translation of mollusca contagiosa isn't quite that literal, each part gives us some clues.

Mollusca contagiosa is a viral skin infection, causing a rash that can sometimes look like little pearls (which, as you know, are produced by mollusks - oysters, to be more specific). It's also contagious and spreads through skin-to-skin contact, including contact with objects that are contaminated, such as towels, toys, or faucet handles. This virus is more common in kids, but it can affect adults, too. In general, it's a relatively harmless virus, though it can cause more severe problems in people with weakened immune systems.

Mollusca contagiosa causes a skin rash with bumps like this.
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Symptoms of Mollusca Contagiosa

The main symptom of mollusca contagiosa is a skin rash. The small bumps are usually round, with a little depression in the center, and they most often form on the face, armpits, midsection, eyelids, hands, or genitals. Luckily, they typically aren't painful, though they can turn red as the immune system fights the virus. When present on the genitals, mollusca contagiosa is considered a sexually transmitted disease.

Some rashes may cause itching, and it's common for the bumps to be scratched right off. This not only causes the infection to spread to other people, but it can also cause the infection to spread to other areas of skin on the infected person. Scratching may also increase the incidence of scarring.

Diagnosing and Treating

A doctor can usually diagnose mollusca contagiosa just by looking at the skin rash. For confirmation, a skin scraping can be collected and examined under a microscope. Once the virus is contracted, it's possible to continue developing bumps for the next five years, though the rash usually disappears within one year. Whenever bumps are present, the virus is contagious. It's only after all rashes are gone that a person is no longer considered contagious.

The virus causing this disease doesn't often stay in the body once the bumps are gone, but it's possible to become reinfected anytime skin contact with an infected person occurs. Though there is no cure for mollusca contagiosa, there are some topical treatments that can be used to reduce the intensity of the bumps. Some of these can be more painful than the rash itself, so treatments occur at the discretion of the patient and his or her doctor. Often, no treatment is used, and the infection clears on its own.

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