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Molluscum Contagiosum

Sexually Transmitted Disease Facts

Type of Infection: Molluscum Contagiosum, also called simply molluscum, is caused by molluscum contagiosum poxvirus.

Prevalence of Molluscum Contagiosum: Molluscum occurs infrequently, about 1 case for every 100 cases of gonorrhea. Infections occur worldwide but are more common in warm, humid climates and where living conditions are crowded.

Modes of Transmission of Molluscum Contagiosum: Molluscum is transmitted by direct human-to-human contact. Many, but not all, cases of molluscum in adults are caused by sexual contact. Spread has also been documented by sharing of towels and bath sponges.

Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum: Lesions are 1-5 mm, smooth, rounded, firm, shiny flesh-colored to pearly-white bumps with characteristically dimpled centers. They are most commonly seen on the trunk and anogenital region and are generally benign. Exceptions to this occur in people with weakened immune systems, in whom the lesions can be diffuse or become bulky. The infection is usually diagnosed based on the appearance of the lesions and laboratory test results.

Treatment of Molluscum Contagiosum: Lesions may resolve spontaneously without scarring within 6 to 12 months but may take as long as 4 years to completely disappear. They may be removed by curettage (piercing of the core and scraping of center material), treatment with caustic chemicals (podophyllin, trichloroacetic acid, silver nitrate), lasers, and/or cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen). These options require a trained health care provider, may require local anesthesia, and can result in pain, irritation, and scarring. If every lesion is not removed, the condition may recur. Infected persons should return for reexamination one month after treatment so any new lesions can be removed. Sex partners should be examined for signs of infection as well.

Possible Consequences of Molluscum Contagiosum for the Infected Person: Secondary infection may occur. Lesions rarely grow greater than 10 mm in diameter.

Prevention of Molluscum Contagiosum: The best way to avoid getting molluscum is by following good hygiene habits. Do not touch, pick, or scratch any skin with bumps or blisters (yours or someone else's). The virus lives only in the skin and once the growths are gone, the virus is gone and cannot be spread to others.

Sources of Information: JM Marrazzo, F Guest, W Cates, "Reproductive Tract Infections," In Hatcher et al, Contraceptive Technology, Ardent Media, 2007. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases.
Photo Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of STD Prevention, "Chancroid," STD Clinical Slides, 2003, www.cdc.gov/std/training/clinicalslides.