Molluscum contagiosum causes harmless, but often embarrassing, growths that can affect any part of the body. Although it eventually goes away of its own accord, the virus that causes it can be spread easily, and growths may get out of control. To understand why molluscum contagiosum often seems to come back, learn more about the virus that causes it and how you can take preventive measures to limit the spread of growths.
Where and How You Get It
Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a member of the poxvirus family. It can be contracted by direct contact with someone with mollusca (the growths caused by the virus), but it also can be acquired by handling contaminated objects or by sharing towels, clothing, hairbrushes and other personal items. Mollusca in children are common, with growths noted on the face, neck, arms, hands, fingers and under the armpits. However, when adults get molluscum contagiosum, growths usually appear on the genitals or groin area as a result of having sex with someone who also has mollusca. Those with depressed immune systems are more at risk for contracting molluscum contagiosum.
How It Spreads
Growths may be limited in number, but they also can grow in a row or clusters. They present as dome-shaped papules with a waxy appearance and a small indentation in the center. They are usually no more than 2 and 6 millimeters in diameter, although they can be larger than 1 centimeter in people with depressed immune systems. The growths spread when scratched, rubbed or picked , transferring the virus to another part of the body. Shaving over the papules also can cause the virus to spread to other areas of the skin, enabling more growths to erupt.
Does It Go Away?
Molluscum contagiosum eventually goes away between six months and a year in healthy adults, but it may take longer for children. If you only have a few growths that don't appear to be spreading, you may not require medical treatment. However, mollusca contagiosum, as the latter word implies, is contagious and can be passed to uninfected sexual partners. The Mayo Clinic recommends that all adults receive medical treatment. The decision to treat a child with mollusca depends on the child's age, health, tolerance for treatment and the extent to which growths have spread.
Doctors can offer numerous methods of treating mollusca contagiosum. These may include in-office procedures that can remove growths using cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen), evisceration, curettage or dissolved using certain topical acids or blistering solutions. A prescription may be recommended, such as topical retinoids, immune modifiers or antiviral medications. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it's common for new mollusca to appear as old growths are healing.
If you have molluscum contagiosum, there are ways to prevent the virus from spreading to other areas of your body, as well as to others. The Mayo Clinic advises not touching, scratching or shaving over the growths. Don't share your personal items, such as clothing, towels, combs or hairbrushes, and don't use those that belong to others. Adults with mollusca should strictly avoid sexual contact until all growths been treated and the condition is resolved.