Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a viral infection that affects the skin. It most commonly affects children, although it can occur at any age.

Usually, the only symptom of MC is a number of small, firm, raised papules (spots) that develop on the skin. They are notpainful, but can be itchy.

Although the spots canlook unpleasant, MC is generally a harmless condition that will normally resolve in a few months without any specific treatment.

Your GP will examine your skin (or your child's) and ask about any other symptoms.

The spots of MC are usually easy to recognise, so your GP should be able to diagnose the condition without the need for further tests.

It is not known exactly how long someone with MC is contagious for, but it is thought the contagious period may last up until the last spot has completely healed.

Who is affected

MC can affect anyone at any age, but the condition is most common in young children particularly those aged between oneand five.

It is also more common in people with a weakened immune system either due to a condition such as HIV and AIDS or a treatment such as chemotherapy .

MC can affect a person on more than one occasion, but this is uncommon.

How MC is treated

In people who are otherwise healthy, individual spots usually clear up within two months. However, it is common for the condition to spread around the body, so it can take up to 18 months or more for the condition to resolve completely.

Routine treatment for MC, particularly in children, is generally not recommended because:

  • the infection usually clears up on its own
  • the infection does notnormally cause any symptoms other than the spots
  • the infection does not usually interfere with everyday activities, such as going to work, swimming or playing sports
  • treatments can be painful and may cause scarring ordamage tothe surrounding skin

Treatment is usually only recommended for older children andadultswhen the spots are particularly unsightly and affect quality of life, or for people with weakened immune systems.

In such cases, treatments that may be offered include liquids, gels or creams that are applied directly to the skin, or minor procedures such as cryotherapy (where the spots are removed by freezing them).

In rare cases, the spots can become infected with bacteria, and occasionally the condition can lead to an eye infection, such as conjunctivitis . Thesecomplications may need additional treatment with antibiotics to clear the infection.

You should:

  • avoidsqueezing or scratching the spots as well as increasing the risk of the infection spreading, thiscan cause pain, bleeding and can lead toscarring
  • keep affected areas of skin covered with clothing whenever possible a waterproof bandage can be put over the areaif you go swimming
  • avoid sharing towels, flannels and clothing
  • avoid sharing baths

Using a condom while having sex can reduce the risk of passing on MC during sexual contact, although thiscannot prevent the spread of the virus completely, because it can be passed to nearbyareas ofskin that are not covered by a condom.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 9 Oct 2014