Molluscum contagiosum is a skin disease that can spread through contact with persons or objects.
This article will discuss what this disease is, its causes, and its characteristic symptoms. We will also learn about how it is transmitted and what makes it more likely for a person to get it.
There will be an explanation about how this disease is diagnosed and how do specialists treat it. To keep getting more information on this common disease directly from a doctor, continue reading.
What is molluscum contagiosum?
Molluscum contagiosum is a benign viral contagious disease that affects the skin and can infect people of all ages. When a disease is benign or mild, it has no relation to cancer and isn’t necessarily a dangerous disease.
The main characteristic of this infection is that it causes one or several small skin lesions that can spread through a person’s body. Although a lot of sexually transmitted infections cause skin lesions, these are very particular, and they easily differentiate themselves from the rest.
Children between the ages of 1 to 5 are the most common recipient of the virus. Before the age of 1, it is not common to find a patient with this disease. This is because the mother passes down antibodies while pregnant and through breast milk to combat possible infections.
However, after a few months, this immunity wears down and makes the child more susceptible to the infection. When children pass the age of 12-months-old, they become more autonomous, making close contact with other children more common.
Young adults are also susceptible to contracting molluscum contagiosum since it is a sexually transmitted infection. This type of infection occurs by passing the disease through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Molluscum contagiosum is not a dangerous disease, and there is practically no association of deaths to the infection. Yet, for people with AIDS that has the molluscum contagiosum infection, it does represent an additional risk for them. In AIDS, people have a weakened immune system that makes them more susceptible to complicated infections.
What is molluscum contagiosum caused by? How is it transmitted?
This disease is the product of a virus’s infection from the poxvirus family with no classification yet. Doctors call it molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV). It infects the epidermis, which is the most superficial layer of the skin, by close interaction with the virus.
People acquire the virus by touching the skin of someone with the infection and by fomites that carry the virus. These are unanimated objects such as towels, benches, shirts, and many others that carry the virus on their surface. When people touch these objects while having even a minuscule skin lesion, the virus can infect the person. The virus can then get inside the skin cells, and it starts reproducing, making the cells larger. This leads to the representative lesions that happen in the MCV infection.
Another critical part of the disease is that people can suffer from autoinoculation of the virus in other body parts. These new lesions can be far from the original molluscum contagiosum lesion since the virus can spread through the body by scratching.
This latter fact causes many other lesions that can continue spreading if there is nothing to prevent this from happening. Shaving is one of the most common ways a person can have autoinoculation of the disease through their body. It can make small cuts in the lesion with the virus particles; therefore, leading to more infections.
As we already know, this is a sexually transmitted infection in adults, but it can happen in children as well. It is essential to recognize where the first molluscum lesion appears to tell how the transmission happened. When a child presents any kind of lesion in the genital area, it can sign sexual abuse in some cases. This is a problem that needs to be taken care of actively with the child’s family.
What are the signs and symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?
This disease’s main sign is the presence of small bumps that can appear almost anywhere in the body. Typical places these appear in for children are armpits, torso, legs, face, and arms. In adults, they commonly appear in the genital area and inner thighs as it tends to be a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, the bumps in adults can also appear in any other body part, as children.
These bumps do not appear on mucous surfaces like the interior of the mouth or the vagina. The molluscum contagiosum bumps also rarely appear in the palms and the sole of the feet.
Health care providers often describe these bumps or lesions as papules, which are raised bumps smaller than a centimeter. They have a deepening in the center that looks like a dimple. There can be a white core at the center as well, and it can be squeezed out.
Sometimes the skin lesions can have a reddish coloration surrounding them, making them more noticeable for patients to see. Also, these bumps usually don’t cause pain, but they can be itchy; therefore, making it easier for the patient to suffer from autoinoculation. This can also lead to a bacterial infection in the area, making it harder for the skin to recover afterward.
A person who doesn’t have problems in their immunological system usually only has up to 20 molluscum bumps. People with diseases like AIDS or under a steroid treatment that decreases immune response have quite different scenarios.
The number of papules raises, they can increase in size, and they can also last way longer to convalesce. This skin disease does not come with a fever, fatigue, or any other general symptom in comparison to others.
What is the incubation period for molluscum contagiosum? How long the disease lasts?
An incubation period is a time when a person gets infected and begins to show symptoms of the disease. In this case, for molluscum contagiosum, the incubation period is between 2 and 8 weeks approximately.
In this period, the person cannot transmit the disease, as a bump is necessary for this to occur. After the first bump appears, the infection resolves within two months since the disease’s onset in the most typical scenario. It can last up to 9 months since the beginning of the symptoms without applying a treatment in other common cases.
This situation can make it psychologically distressing, too, as it is an aesthetical problem the patient has to deal with. If there is a bacterial infection in the skin lesions, these can last longer to recede and might need treatment. For patients with a weakened immunological system, the disease can extend up to 4 years.
In this disease, the virus only gets to the upper layer of the skin and does not spread further. This guarantees that the molluscum virus does not stay in the body; afterward, the lesion disappears. If another lesion appears is because the person is infected from another previous bump elsewhere or another person.
This situation contrasts to other skin diseases like herpes, in which the virus stays in a part of the nerves. After the infection ceases, it can reappear in the same place because it remains in the body. Molluscum contagiosum in the genital area can sometimes seem like genital herpes if the clinical eye doesn’t have much experience.
What are the risk factors for molluscum contagiosum?
There are several important risk factors to take into consideration when taking care of this viral infection. One of these is living in a warm and humid climate and closed and small places with several people. However, the main risk factor is a weak immune system, whether it is from HIV, cancer treatment, or previous transplant treatments.
For the MCV infection, the thing that works best for the body is a response with cells instead of antibodies. The latter are proteins the immune system produces to attack possible body invaders such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites; when there is HIV, the cells that protect the body decreases, making it more susceptible to infections. Although the body struggles to contain the virus in healthy people, it does reduce its extend in all ways.
Another risk factor is having previous skin diseases like atopic dermatitis. This is a common condition in which exposure to certain substances and settings leads to skin inflammation. It can make the skin get itchy and constantly crack if there are no preventive measures. This makes it easier for the person to get the disease as they always have lesions in their body. It also facilitates the spread within the person as there can be constant scratching. Atopic dermatitis customarily runs within the family, and children are the ones who suffer from it the most.
Moreover, as it is a sexually transmitted infection, risky sexual conduct can make the patient more liable for getting the disease. Having multiple sexual partners in a short amount of time increases the probability of exposure to molluscum contagiosum. Not using preservatives while having sexual contact can increase the chances of getting the disease and others like HIV.
Is there a test for molluscum contagiosum?
Because molluscum contagiosum has unique characteristics, doctors generally make the diagnosis based on physical exam, especially inspection of the lesions.
The characteristic lesion that doctors look for is small bumps with a dimpled center with no other particular symptoms. For this reason, tests are not usually an indication. But if the specialist doctor has doubts about the diagnosis, it can request a skin biopsy.
Skin biopsy is a simple procedure in which doctors remove skin samples and then analyze them under a microscope. In these, doctors look for molluscum bodies, a specific kind of inclusion inside the cell with the infection. Patients don’t have to worry about this procedure because the sample size tends to be very small. The biopsy is an outpatient procedure, which means that the patient doesn’t need to spend the night in the hospital.
A Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is another tool a doctor can use to identify the virus in the body. This can even specify different subtypes of the molluscum contagiosum virus, as it recognizes the viral DNA. The problem with this test is that it’s quite expensive and not necessary for a common diagnosis of the disease. Scientists use it for investigations on this virus but not to determine whether a patient has it or not.
It is important in adult patients to test for other sexually transmitted infections as there can be more. HIV is one that has an association with this virus very closely. Other STI’s that doctors can test for are syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, human papillomavirus, etc.
What is the treatment for molluscum contagiosum?
There is no always necessary to treat molluscum contagiosum, but you should always seek medical attention. It would be best to ask your doctor to examine any new skin lesions or changes in the previous ones.
If you suspect that you may have molluscum contagiosum, consulting a dermatologist has many benefits. A dermatologist is a doctor in charge of studying and treating the skin, which is known as dermatology.
First, you will find out if it is a molluscum or something else like cancer, chickenpox, genital herpes, or warts. Second, we must remember that molluscum is easily spread from an infected person to another. Visiting the doctor can guide you to take the appropriate measures.
In children, doctors usually prefer not to apply any treatment at all as it can be traumatic for them. Since this is a self-limited disease, doctors would keep a close follow-up and let them heal independently, depending on the case.
Most of the time, adults prefer to get treatment, especially for aesthetical reasons and the stigma of having an STI. Direct trauma to the lesion is the most effective to treat the disease to this day.
The application of damage to the bumps causes the cellular immune response to act on the site. This prompts faster recovery, but it is a long procedure that needs local anesthesia to ease the pain. The use of laser therapy is very useful, but the cost is high and not available to everyone.
Cryotherapy is a method many doctors use too to sore the bumps. In this, the doctors freeze the bumps with nitrogen in sessions every two weeks so that way they can disappear sooner. Topical and oral medications are not widely used in healthy patients, but indeed in immunologically weakened patients.
How to prevent spreading the disease? What is the outcome for someone who has molluscum?
In order to avoid the spreading of the disease to others, there are some easy and important directions to follow.
First of all, the patient mustn’t scratch over the lesion as there can be autoinoculation or spread. Since preventing a kid from doing that is difficult, a child’s healthcare provider can recommend watertight bandages. These are like band-aids that adhere to the skin and avoid the scratching of the lesion and, therefore, spreading.
For adults, regular clothes can function as a barrier to stop the spread of the molluscum contagiosum. In case of wanting to play sports like swimming, they can use watertight bandages as well. No clothes, towels, or sports equipment should be shared as it can easily infect other people.
Avoiding shaving in adult patients is crucial since there can be autoinoculation of the disease to nearby areas. If the bumps are in the genitalia, the patient should avoid having sexual intercourse until it regresses. When the patient excessively scratches the lesions, it can cause a bacterial infection in the area. These can lead to scarring of the skin, producing a permanent aesthetical problem that shouldn’t occur to people with this infection.
What is the difference between HPV and molluscum?
Despite molluscum contagiosum and human papillomavirus are both contagious diseases that cause dermatological lesions; there are several differences between them.
Maybe the most remarkable is whereas molluscum appears anywhere on the body, HPV warts are mainly found in genitals. Another common site for warts is on the palms and soles of the feet. These skin lesions, although similar for an inexperienced eye, look quite different.
As we mentioned before, Molluscum has a uniform, round appearance, with a white core that can be squeezed out. Whereas HPV warts look more irregular, they appear like rough and raised lumps. The plantar warts are hard and grainy growths. And when they appear on the genitals, they are usually flat lesions, small cauliflower-shaped bumps, or small stem-like bumps. Genital warts rarely cause discomfort or pain, although they can be itchy or tender.
While HPV has been linked to cancer, specifically cervical cancer, the virus causes molluscum contagiosum has a benign course. It is also important to know that molluscum contagiosum lesions will disappear when the body eliminates the virus. But on the other hand, the HPV could remain present even after the warts are not visible.
Do you have symptoms of this disease?
This tool is a Molluscum contagiosum Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for this infection. Therefore, the tool will tell anybody who uses it the likelihood that their skin bumps are because of this infection. Using this tool is free and would only take a few minutes.