Molluscum, also known as molluscum contagiosum, can be a menace to your cosmetic appearance, especially when it seems like mollusca growths never go away–or when they seem to keep coming back. Managing molluscum contagiosum requires diligence on your part to keep growths from spreading and can require medical treatment when mollusca grow out of control. This skin condition can resolve with enough time, but it can come back if you're reinfected with the virus that causes it.
What Is Molluscum Contagiosum?
Molluscum contagiosum, as its name implies, is contagious. It's caused by the poxvirus, which you contract through direct contact with others who have mollusca growths or by touching contaminated surfaces or objects, such as clothing, toys, doorknobs and the personal belongings of others. Molluscum contagiosum is very common in children between 1 and 10 years of age, says the Centers for Disease Control. When adults get it, it's most often through sexual contact. Those with HIV/AIDS are also more at risk for getting molluscum contagiousum. Molluscum contagiosum presents as small, dome-shaped growths on the skin that are white, pink or flesh-colored–usually no bigger than 5 mm in diameter, although those with depressed immune systems may note larger growths. Mollusca may be few or many, and can surface on your skin individually or in groups.
How It Spreads
When you rub, scratch or touch existing growths and then touch other parts of your body, you can transfer the virus to unaffected areas of skin. Mollusca can also be spread by shaving over growths. The virus that causes the growths inhabits only your skin, not the rest of your body. According to the CDC, growths typically resolve without the need for treatment between six months and a year, but this can sometimes take up to four years. After full resolution of mollusca, the virus that causes them is no longer present in your skin, and you are no longer contagious to others.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one option to medical treatment is to let mollusca resolve on their own, and this may be preferable in the case of young children who may be fearful of in-office medical procedures. However, when molluscum growths spread rapidly or begin to affect your appearance, there are several in-office medical procedures available, including cryotherapy, curettage and laser surgery. Your doctor may apply a topical acid or blistering solution to the growths, or give you a prescription for a cream that you can apply in the comfort of your home. Adults who are sexually active should receive treatment for molluscum contagiosum so they won't spread it to other partners.
Can It Come Back?
Even after mollusca are completely gone and the virus no longer present on your skin, you can get molluscum contagiosum again if you touch an infected object or have direct physical contact with someone who has molluscum contagiosum. In this respect, molluscum contagiosum is completely unlike the herpes virus, which resides in your nerve ganglia for a lifetime and causes outbreaks whenever it reactivates. It's possible to get reinfected with the poxvirus again and again.
If you have molluscum growths, the CDC recommends that you keep them covered with clothing or a watertight bandage to prevent other people from coming into contact with the virus. Bandages can be removed at night, when you are alone. Don't share your personal items with others, and wait until mollusca are successfully treated and your condition resolved before having sexual contact with others.