Molluscum Contagiosum Virus: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Jeremy Battista

Jeremy has a master of science degree in education.

Many diseases are found in human beings, and some are worse than others. A harmless virus, Molluscum contagiosum, is easily passed around and most often found in children. Read on to learn more about symptoms and treatment.

What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that occurs because of exposure to a poxvirus, similar in some ways to the chicken pox virus. Molluscum contagiosum is a very common infection that causes small raised marks on the skin, but the marks are not necessarily itchy, separating it from other viruses such as chicken pox.

Molluscum contagiosum lesions on the skin.
Molluscum Lesions

As one can see from the image, these lesions look similar to blisters or warts, which is why they often are given the nickname ''water warts''. The virus will not cause pox all over the body but in only the area infected. However, it can be spread around the infected person's body.

How Is It Spread?

It is a fairly common virus that spreads easily through contact with surfaces an infected person has touched. Sports such as wrestling or gymnastics expose individuals to infected gym mats, and sharing towels, such as when swimming, is a common way to spread the infection. It is most common in children because they are more likely to be engaging in activities with shared surfaces housing the virus. This does not mean, however, that adults cannot get the virus. Often adults contract it through sexual intercourse. Molluscum contagiosum can be spread through any direct skin-to-skin contact of an infected and non-infected person.

An infected individual can also spread the infection around their own body. If an arm, for instance, is showing signs of infection (raised bumps or pox) scratching that area or touching it and then touching a leg could spread it to a new part of that person's body. Once the bumps go away, the virus is no longer transmittable. This is unlike other skin diseases that can lay dormant and come out or spread without any real sign, such as herpes.


Molluscum contagiosum is different than other viral infections. Unlike other pox-type viruses, a fever or general sickness doesn't accompany the infection. Oftentimes other viruses like the chicken pox will start with a fever or general malaise feeling. Molluscum does not necessarily start as such. Within 7 weeks of exposure the area that was exposed to the virus will develop the raised little bumps that are sometimes itchy, most often not.

Since adults mostly get infected with Molluscum contagiosum through sexual contact, oftentimes the bumps appear on the genitals, inner thighs, or lower extremities. A doctor will be able to tell what the bumps are by visual confirmation or possibly even taking a small scraping to sample it. It should be noted that those patients that are infected with AIDS or other immune-suppressing diseases will often have larger and more numerous bumps than the average person with no immune system issues.


There are several treatments available to combat Molluscum contagiosum. Often the virus will clear itself up as the immune system fights it, so treatment is technically unnecessary. However, because it can spread easily from one person to another or spread around a person's body, treatment will be suggested. This can be done in several ways: topically, surgically, or orally.

The topical option involves a cream or salve placed on the bumps. The patient is given the cream to put on the bumps periodically during the day. Salicylic acid and other wart creams are usually prescribed. Sometimes a harsher cream will be used and must be done under the care of a physician in their office. These creams are, as stated, prescription only and therefore should not be taken lightly. In fact, the CDC does not recommend certain ones for pregnant woman because of the toxicity of these creams. They also need to be applied to each molluscum bump to be effective.

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