Molluscum Contagiosum: skin infection caused by a virus


Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin infection caused by a virus. It’s annoying, but not dangerous. Anyone can get it, but it’s most common among children who are 1-10 years old, teens who are sexually active, and people who have trouble fighting off infection.

Adults tend to get molluscum contagiosum on their genitals and in their pubic areas. This is due to the transmission of the molluscum virus during sex. The virus is highly contagious and gets transmitted through direct skin contact. During sex, the pubic areas and genitals are very exposed and rubbed vigorously, and transmission is therefore easy and inevitable.

Men who have genital molluscum on their penis, and women who have it on their vagina should abstain from sex until the infection is gone, otherwise it will get transmitted to their partner. In fact, molluscum in the pubic area is probably a turn off for your partner, so be considerate and do not try to have sex.

How is Molluscum Contagiosum spread?

Molluscum contagiosum is passed from one area of the body to another by scratching and from one person to another by direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person’s bumps or by having contact with an object that has been infected by the virus. The virus is spread:

During any type of skin to skin contact such as sexual activity, contact sports, or other activity that involves touching the bumps of an infected person.

Through contact with a towel, washcloth or something else that has the virus on it.

To other parts of an infected person’s body by scratching the bumps.


It is caused by a virus which can be passed on by skin-to-skin contact. You can also be infected by touching things that have been contaminated by the virus. For example, by sharing towels, flannels or soft toys that have been used by someone who has molluscum contagiosum. Once one area of skin is affected the rash can spread to other areas of your skin. However, most people are resistant (immune) to this virus. Therefore, most of those who come into contact with affected people do not develop molluscum contagiosum.

In adults sometimes the virus is passed on during the close skin-to-skin contact of having sex. About 2 in 10 men and 1 in 10 women who have mollusca also have a sexually transmitted disease. If it is passed on whilst having sex then the first mollusca to appear tend to be on the skin of the lower tummy (abdomen) and around the penis, vagina or back passage (anus). If this occurs then you should consider being checked out for sexually transmitted infections.

Symptoms of Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum first appears as very small (about 1/8 inch across) smooth, round, pearly bumps. The bumps are hard with a dimple in the middle. They are the color of your flesh, pink or white and they are usually no bigger than the size of a pencil eraser. You may see them on or around the pubic area, on the stomach, or inner thighs or anywhere on the body except the palms of your hands or the bottom of your feet. There may be one or two bumps or 10 to 20 or more than 50. Most people have a small group of bumps. The bumps are usually not painful or itchy but they can become red, swollen, uncomfortable and even itchy if they become infected. However, redness and soreness can also mean that they are healing naturally.

Treatments for Molluscum Contagiosum

Some treatments are available for molluscum, but if left alone they typically go away, usually within year to a year-and-a-half. However, they may leave scars if they get infected or scratched and/or picked. If you are concerned about mollusca spreading to other parts of your body or to your partners, or if you have mollusca that are easily irritated or especially unsightly, they can be removed through freezing, scraping, electrosurgery, laser cautery, or the application of chemical agents.

Treatment options if needed

There is no convincing evidence yet that any one treatment works best.

Sometimes treatment is wanted, if the lesions are particularly unsightly or troublesome, or if they are spreading very widely. You should discuss this with your GP.

One treatment often used is to burst the mollusca with a sharpened orange stick or sterile needle. Or they can be squeezed between fingernails (in gloves) or with sterile tweezers.

Sometimes mollusca are frozen with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy).

Creams and lotions may be used. As previously stated, so far doctors are not sure which is the best one, or even if some of them have any effect at all.

Options used include:

  • Benzoyl peroxide.
  • Hydrogen peroxide.
  • Potassium hydroxide.
  • Iodine preparations.
  • Imiquimod cream. (Used by skin specialists particularly in people who have problems with their immune system.)
  • Pulsed dye laser therapy. (Blasting the mollusca with special laser beams. Occasionally used by skin specialists.)
  • If the skin around the mollusca becomes itchy or infected, your GP can prescribe creams for this.

What to Do After Treatment 

  • Keep the area clean.
  • Use a different towel for drying other parts of your body after a shower or a bath.
  • Don’t scratch the area that has been treated.
  • Wash your hands after touching the area that has been treated.
  • Avoid having sex if it is uncomfortable.
  • Apply cold compresses to relieve discomfort, or take a pain reliever.

How to prevent Molluscum Contagiosum?

The chance of passing on the molluscum contagiosum virus to others is small, and it is not serious anyway. Therefore, there is no need to keep children with molluscum contagiosum off school, or away from swimming pools, etc. There is no need for adults to keep away from gyms or other people.

To reduce the chance of passing it on to others, it is sensible not to share towels, clothes, soft toys, or bathwater if you have molluscum contagiosum. Also, try to avoid skin-to-skin contact with other people (for example, by covering affected areas with clothing). For adults who have mollusca, a condom should be used during sex. This will not completely stop skin-to-skin spread but will reduce the chance of passing it on considerably.

Try not to scratch the mollusca, as this may increase the risk of spreading the rash to other areas of the skin. Molluscum contagiosum can be passed on to other people (is contagious) until the last molluscum has gone.

When to seek medical help?

Whenever you notice new bumps down there, it’s a good idea to talk with a health care professional. S/he will be able to distinguish mollusca from genital warts, discuss safer sex strategies, and suggest appropriate treatment. Keep in mind that health care providers have seen many a bump, on many a body part; if you have a strange bump or slew of bumps, there is no need to attempt self-diagnosis out of embarrassment. With proper consultation and treatment, the bumps will likely diminish or disappear and you’ll be able to bother about other matters.