Molluscum Contagiosum at a Glance
- A virus that affects the skin
- Symptoms include small, round bumps with indents
- Treatment is available
- Spread through close contact, including sexual activity
- Condoms help reduce your risk of infection
We all want to protect ourselves and each other from infections like molluscum contagiosum. Learning more about molluscum contagiosum is an important first step.
Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about molluscum contagiosum. We hope you find the answers helpful, whether you think you may have molluscum contagiosum, have been diagnosed with it, or are just curious about it.
What Is Molluscum Contagiosum?
You may have heard of molluscum contagiosum, but many people are not sure what it is. Molluscum contagiosum is a virus that affects the skin. It can infect children as well as adults. It is often transmitted by nonsexual, close contact. It can also be transmitted during sexual contact.
Hundreds of thousands of cases of the virus molluscum contagiosum are diagnosed every year.
What Are the Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum?
If you have molluscum contagiosum, you may have small, waxy, round growths in the genital area or on the thighs. There is often a tiny indentation in the middle of the growth. Symptoms usually appear between two to three months after infection.
Often there are no other symptoms. But sometimes the bumps may itch or feel tender to the touch.
People who have weakened immune systems — from HIV, cancer, or another illness — usually have worse symptoms.
How Can I Know If I Have Molluscum Contagiosum?
You'll need to see a health care provider. Your provider most likely will be able to diagnose molluscum contagiosum by examining the growths. Your provider may also take a scraping from a growth to look at with a microscope to see for sure if you have the infection.
Is There a Treatment for Molluscum Contagiosum?
Yes, treatment is available. A health care provider can remove the small growths with chemicals, with an electrical current, or by freezing them. Or you can use a prescription medicine that can be applied at home.
Some people choose not to have the growths treated because molluscum contagiosum can go away on its own. But left untreated, it takes an average of two years for all of the growths to go away. And during that time, there is a risk of spreading the virus to other parts of your body or to other people.
What to Do After Treatment
- Keep the area clean. Use a different towel for drying other parts of your body after a shower or a bath.
- Don't scratch the area that has been treated.
- Wash your hands after touching the area that has been treated.
- Avoid having sex if it is uncomfortable.
- Apply cold compresses to relieve discomfort, or take a pain reliever.
Where Can I Get a Test or Treatment for Molluscum Contagiosum?
Staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers can diagnose molluscum contagiosum and help you get any treatment you may need.
How Is Molluscum Contagiosum Spread?
You can get molluscum contagiosum through close contact with someone who is infected with it. Even though molluscum contagiosum is often transmitted sexually, you do not need to have sex in order to get it. But that is how most adults get infected.
Molluscum contagiosum is spread by
- vaginal and anal intercourse
- oral sex
- nonsexual, intimate contact
- sharing clothing or towels
Children may become infected through casual contact. In such cases, growths may appear on other parts of the body, especially the abdomen.
If you have molluscum contagiosum already, you can spread the growths by itching, scratching, or rubbing them.
How Can I Prevent Getting or Spreading Molluscum Contagiosum?
The key is in reducing the chance that the growths come in contact with other part of the body. Condoms reduce the risk of molluscum contagiosum during vaginal and anal intercourse and oral sex. But the virus may still be in the area that is not covered and protected by condoms. If you have growths, it is best to avoid sexual contact until they go away or have been removed.
Covering the sores with bandages or clothing also reduces the risk of spreading the virus to others or to other parts of your body. And careful hand washing can further reduce the risk of infection.