Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum, also known as water warts, is a common skin infection caused by a poxvirus called molluscum contagiosum virus.

The infection causes growths on the skin called Mollusca that may appear anywhere on the body. These growths are small and raised, and are usually white, pink, or the same color as the skin.

Anyone can get molluscum contagiosum, but it is most common in kids between the ages of 1 to 10 years old.

Water warts as red bumps on skin.

Molluscum Contagiosum 101

 Causes and Transmission

Molluscum contagiosum is spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, or contact with an item the infected person has touched.
  • Molluscum contagiosum is spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
    • People who live in warm, humid climates where living conditions are crowded are at an increased risk of getting the infection.
    • People who participate in contact sports may be at increased risk of infection.
    • People can become infected through sexual contact with an infected person.
  • The infection is also spread through contact with items an infected person has touched, including:
    • Towels and clothing
    • Bathing sponges
    • Razors
    • Pool equipment
    • Sports equipment, including helmets, gloves, and mats
    • Toys

 Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms show up within one week to six months after contact with the virus.

Anyone can get molluscum contagiosum infection, but it is most common in kids between the ages of 1 to 10 years old. People with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for getting the infection and may have a more severe infection that is harder to treat. The growths may be very small and hard to see, so some people who have molluscum contagiosum don't know it.

Mollusca growths:

  • Are usually flesh-colored, pink, or white.
  • Often have a tiny dent or dimple in the middle.
  • Can range in size from the head of a pin to a pencil eraser.
  • Can show up alone or in groups.
  • May be itchy, sore, swollen, or red.
  • Can occur anywhere on the body, but are rarely found on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.
Small red bumps on skin or water warts, close view.

 Treatment

Treatment of molluscum contagiosum is not always needed, especially in healthy people. Mollusca growths usually go away on their own within six months to a year, but they can last up to four years. Treatment is usually recommended if the growths are in the genital area. People with weakened immune systems should see their doctor if they have molluscum contagiosum infection. Treatment of molluscum contagiosum infection does not prevent future infections.

Some methods your doctor may use to remove Mollusca growths include:

  • Physical removal, including:
    • Freezing the growth with liquid nitrogen.
    • Piercing the growth and scraping out the material inside.
    • Using laser therapy to remove the growths.
  • Oral therapy with prescription cimetidine.
  • Topical therapy with prescription creams.

It is important to see your doctor to remove growths. Do not attempt to remove growths on your own.

 Prevention

To prevent spreading molluscum contagiosum infection to others if you have it, or to prevent getting the infection:

  • Wash your hands often and properly.
  • Don't scratch or pick at growths. This could spread the infection to others, or spread growths to other parts of your body.
  • Keep growths clean and covered with clothing or a bandage.
    • If using a bandage, make sure to keep skin dry and change the bandage often.
    • Wear watertight bandages when swimming.
    • It is especially important to cover growths when playing contact sports, such as wrestling, basketball, soccer, and football.
  • Do not share towels, clothing, or other personal items, such as helmets, baseball gloves, hair brushes, or bar soap.
  • Avoid sexual activity until you see your doctor if you have growths in the genital area.

 Resources

  • Molluscum Contagiosum: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage with information on transmission, risk factors, treatment, and prevention of molluscum contagiosum.
  • Wash Your Hands!, P-01710: The Department of Health Services flyer with information on proper handwashing techniques.

Questions about molluscum contagiosum? Contact us.
Phone: 608-267-9003 | Fax: 608-261-4976

Last Revised: September 27, 2019