Molluscum Contagiosum

Updated December 2016.

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a virus that causes a skin infection of small lesions or bumps. It is generally a benign infection and symptoms can clear up without receiving treatment. 

Is it common?

Over 100,000 cases of the virus are diagnosed every year.

How is it transmitted?

It is often transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex, but can also be transmitted through non-sexual, intimate contact. Inanimate objects such as swim suits, undergarments, or towels that are shared or that come into contact with the lesions can transmit the virus. If a person has the virus, they can also spread the infection to other parts of their own body by touching a lesion and then touching another part of their body.

What are the symptoms?

Mollusca are firm, dome shaped bumps that may have a little dimple in the center. They can be white, translucent, pink, yellow or flesh-colored. They range in size from very tiny (head of a pin) to large (size of a nickel). They can also become red and swollen. They are usually found around the lower abdomen, genitals, inner thighs, buttocks, or groin but may also be found on external genitalia and around the anus. The lesions can last from 2 weeks to 4 years, with the average time being 2 years.

How soon after exposure to molluscum contagiosum will symptoms appear?

Symptoms usually appear between 2 to 12 weeks after exposure -- but it can take years for symptoms to show up. 

How is it diagnosed?

Your medical provider will visually examine any lesions and may also examine tissue or fluid taken from them under a microscope to confirm whether you have the infection.

How is it treated?

Prior to treatment, it is important to avoid touching the lesion and then touching another part of your body without washing your hands to prevent the chance of spreading the infection. To have the lesions treated, there are a variety of options: the growths may be removed with chemicals, through a scraping procedure called curettage, or through cryotherapy (freezing). Repeated treatments may be necessary. Lesions may also self-resolve in time, but going through treatment minimizes the risk of transmission to another person.

Can a molluscum contagiosum infection be dangerous?

Fortunately, besides the discomfort of having the infection, there are no serious health complications or risks. But it is important to get the infection treated because of the risk of transmitting it to others. 

Related Links

For more information about molluscum contagiosum, you can visit:

American Sexual Health Association

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    Health Promotion
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    Sexual Assault Response Line
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    Counseling & Psychological Services
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