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Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is not a reportable disease in Oklahoma; however, the Oklahoma State Department of Health investigates outbreaks of Molluscum Contagiosum to control the spread of this disease.  Molluscum contagiosum is a viral disease of the skin that causes small, pink bumps on the skin. It is not harmful and usually does not result any other symptoms. It is common worldwide and accounts for about one percent of all skin disorders in the United States. It is most common in children and adolescents, although it can affect adults.

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus called the molluscipox virus. A person can contract MC by having direct contact with a person who has the infection, or by indirect contact with shared items, such as clothing, towels, and washcloths.  It is unknown how long a person is contagious.  The period between exposure and development of symptoms can range from one week to six months.

Outbreaks have occurred in the following settings:

  • Swimming pools (in children)
  • Wrestling matches
  • During surgery, by a surgeon with a hand lesion
  • Via tattoos (although rarely)
  • Sexually: MC can be sexually transmitted but not all genital lesions are sexually transmitted.

Molluscum contagiosum rash begins as tiny papules (small raised bumps), each measuring three to six millimeters (about one-eighth to one-quarter inch).  Some lesions may be as large as three centimeters (1.2 inches) across.

  • The MC rash appears as smooth, flesh-colored, dome-shaped papules. With time, the center becomes soft and indented (umbilicated) with a white core. This core may be squeezed out easily. Some redness and scaling are possible at the edges of a lesion. This may be the result of inflammation or from scratching.
  • Lesions may be located on any area of the skin and on mucous membranes (parts of the body that are naturally moist such as eyes). They are usually grouped in one or two areas, but may be widely spread. Lesions are commonly located on the face, eyelids, neck, underarms, thighs or genital area. Usually, fewer than 20 lesions appear, but several hundred are possible.
  • The rash rarely involves the mouth, palms, or soles.
  • The rash usually causes no itching or tenderness. There are no generalized symptoms such as fever, nausea, or weakness.
  • People with impaired immune systems can develop multiple, widespread, persistent, and disfiguring lesions, especially on the face and possibly involving the neck and trunk. These lesions can come together to form giant lesions.  Examples of people with weakened immune systems include those with cancer or AIDS or people taking medications such as steroids that affect the body’s defense mechanisms.
  • In some cases, development of severe MC may be an indication of infection with HIV. Most people with MC, however, have no such serious underlying medical problem.

Molluscum contagiosum is usually diagnosed based on a medical history and physical examination. Additional tests are not routinely ordered.  In most cases, the lesions will heal without treatment over a period of six to nine months. Removal of lesions reduces the rate of spread to other people as well as from one part of the body to another, which happens by touching the lesions (called autoinoculation).

Good personal hygiene is a key factor in avoiding transmission of this disease.

  • MC is spread by close personal contact with infected people.  Avoid skin-to-skin contact with others who have MC in order to prevent transmission.
  • Avoid scratching lesions to prevent spreading the rash by autoinoculation (spread from one part of the body to another by touching the lesions).

Molluscum Contagiosum Fact Sheets and Information:

Molluscum Contagiosum Fact Sheet (45k.pdf)
Hand Hygiene (253k.pdf)
 Higiene de las Manos - Español (56k.pdf)

External Molluscum Contagiosum Resources:

Molluscum Contagiosum (CDC)

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