July 27, 2012
Dear Mayo Clinic:
Both of my children have been diagnosed with molluscum contagiosum. What is the best way to get rid of it quickly? Is it still okay to have sleepovers with other children, or are they contagious until the bumps are gone?
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that causes small, raised, round skin bumps. It is quite common in children. No treatment is necessary for this skin condition, as the body's immune system will eventually get rid of the infection. But that can take up to a year or longer. Because the condition is persistent and spreads easily, many people choose to undergo treatment for molluscum contagiosum. Various treatment options are available, but getting rid of the virus quickly can be a challenge.
The bumps of molluscum contagiosum range from about the size of a pinhead to a pencil eraser. Rarely, the bumps may be several millimeters in diameter —larger than a pencil eraser — if a person's immune system doesn't work as it should due to other medical conditions. The bumps often have a small indentation or dot at the top. In children, molluscum contagiosum typically appears on the face, neck, armpits, hands and arms.
Although uncommon, molluscum contagiosum can affect the eyes, with bumps developing on the eyelids and the outer part of the eyeball. When this happens, it's important to seek care from an ophthalmologist promptly to prevent eye problems.
As the name suggests, the virus that causes molluscum contagiosum is very contagious. Scratching or rubbing the bumps will spread the virus to the surrounding skin, making the condition worse. Molluscum contagiosum can also make skin inflamed, red and itchy, a condition known as dermatitis. Dermatitis causes skin to break down, making it even easier for molluscum contagiosum to spread. Direct skin-to-skin contact can spread the virus to other people as long as the bumps remain. Contact with objects contaminated by the virus, including toys, towels and other household items, can also spread molluscum contagiosum to others.
To avoid spreading the virus, your children should keep the areas of skin affected by molluscum contagiosum covered with clothing or a bandage when they are around other people. They should not share towels, washcloths, clothing or other personal items that might come in contact with the bumps. Encourage your children to avoid touching the bumps and to wash their hands often. If your children go swimming, cover the bumps with a waterproof bandage.
Molluscum contagiosum usually goes away without treatment within six to 12 months, although it can take longer. But doctors may recommend treatment because the infection is so contagious. Treatment can be particularly helpful in children who often find the bumps to be bothersome and who are at a higher risk of spreading the infection from molluscum contagiosum because they are more likely to scratch or rub the bumps.
Products placed on the skin that contain irritating ingredients, such as salicylic acid or potassium hydroxide, may get rid of the bumps over time. Antiviral creams can also help eliminate molluscum contagiosum. But they also take time to work.
Procedures to remove the bumps, such as scraping or freezing them, can be performed in a doctor's office. Rarely, laser therapy may be used to treat the condition. Laser treatment is usually reserved for people whose immune systems are suppressed and cannot get rid of the virus on their own.
All of these treatments need to be performed under the supervision of a doctor, usually a dermatologist or pediatric dermatologist. In some cases, a combination of treatments may be necessary. Make an appointment to talk to your children's doctor about the best course of action. In the meantime, take precautions to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
— Dawn Davis, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.