Unfortunately, not everything goes away as easily as the common cold–and some conditions are a lot more contagious than others. One such case is molluscum contagiosum, a viral disease of the skin commonly seen in children between the ages of 1 and 10.
Here’s what parents need to know about the virus and how to manage (and prevent) it in children.
Molluscum contagiosum is a type of skin infection caused by a poxvirus. The infection typically results in a mild, benign skin disease characterized by lesions (growths) on the body. These can happen anywhere on the skin.
The key feature is lesions, known as Mollusca, which contain the virus. Mollusca are small, raised bumps, typically white, pink, or flesh-colored. They often have a pearly appearance. They are smooth and firm and may look a bit like whitehead pimples in some cases. Over time, the lesions tend to develop a small, sunken center.
They may become red, itchy, sore, swollen, or inflamed. They are easily removed with scratching, like a pimple, but doing so spreads the virus to other areas of the skin.
These lesions may appear as an individual bump or in groups. They can appear anywhere on the body, including:
- Genital area
They are rarely found on the palms or soles of the feet. Lesions are typically seen in the genital area if the virus was transmitted sexually.
Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a poxvirus. The poxvirus family includes viruses like smallpox and monkeypox, and all poxviruses are characterized by skin lesions, skin nodules, or disseminated rashes.
Unfortunately, the virus’s name is not a misnomer–it spreads quite easily through:
- Skin-to-skin contact
- Scratching lesions, which bursts the lesion and spreads the virus
- Skin contact with contaminated objects like towels
- Sexual contact with an infected partner
Experts suspect the more likely transmission culprit is shared items between swimmers, such as towels and kickboards, or through direct skin-to-skin contact.
Once the virus enters your system, lesions appear two to six weeks later.
Scratching lesions is a very common way to spread the virus, since the virus may resemble many other skin conditions to the untrained eye–especially ordinary acne. The difference is that unlike ordinary acne, which only lasts for a short while, molluscum contagiosum lesions can last for months at a time.
It is not clear whether the virus can transmit if someone has contact with an intact lesion or if breaking the lesion and spreading virus material is essential. Either way, the virus cannot spread through simply coughing or sneezing–it remains on the top layer of your skin and does not circulate throughout the body. This means that once lesions are gone, the virus is gone and you cannot spread it to others.
It can affect anyone, but it’s most often seen in children between the ages of 1 and 10. Experts are not sure why that is, but one theory is that children in this age group have a lot more skin-to-skin contact than most, and because children in this age group have a harder time with hygiene.
Based on medical records, the most likely people to contract the virus include:
- Children between 1 and 10 years old
- Athletes who share equipment
- People with compromised immune systems
- Those who have trouble fighting off infections
- People who live in warm, humid areas and have close contact with others
Individuals of any age, but especially children, are more susceptible to the virus if they have eczema. Because eczema leaves your skin dry and cracked, your skin barrier is compromised, and that makes it easier for the virus to get in your system.
While children are most likely to get molluscum contagiosum, it is also seen in teens and adults. In those populations, it’s often spread through sexual contact. In those cases, it's considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and is typically seen on the genital area or even in the mouth.
The good news is that molluscum contagiosum is not dangerous. Better still, it usually resolves on its own without scarring. The bad news is that the virus is contagious, it takes a while to resolve on its own, and while it may not be dangerous, it is certainly unpleasant.
Typically, molluscum contagiosum resolves on its own within six to eighteen months of the original infection, though there are cases where lesions could take as long as four years to resolve. Since the virus usually resolves itself, dermatologists will usually recommend letting it run its course and taking precautions to avoid spreading it rather than interventions.
Treatment, best directed by a pediatrician or dermatologist, may be recommended for patients who have:
- Molluscum in the genital area
- A chronic skin condition such as eczema
- A weakened immune system
- Extremely bothersome lesions
- Desire to prevent further transmission in children
In those cases, your dermatologist will remove the lesions. You should not try to remove lesions yourself. Treatment options include:
- Physical removal (cryotherapy, laser therapy, or curettage)
- Oral therapy
- Topical therapy
The best treatment for molluscum contagiosum is prevention–preventing your kids from catching the virus and preventing them from spreading it to others. This means good hygiene practices, frequent hand-washing, not sharing personal items, and not touching the lesions.
As a parent, the best thing you can do to manage molluscum contagiosum for your child is to take steps to prevent it. Good skin hygiene practices are your best ally. The first step to good hygiene is cleansing.
The CLn BodyWash or CLn SportWash are made with gentle yet effective formulas designed for daily use in people with sensitive skin. They work at the source to wash away harmful bacteria, germs, and irritations that contribute to common skin problems.
If you’re a parent looking to keep your child’s skin healthy and clean, start with cleansing.