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Molluscum contagiosum (MC), sometimes called water warts, is a viral infection of the skin that results in small, raised, pink lesions with a dimple in the center. They may occasionally be itchy or sore. They may occur singularly or in groups. Any area of the skin may be affected, with abdomen, legs, arms, neck, genital area, and face being most common. Onset of the lesions is around seven weeks after infection. It usually goes away within a year without scarring.


MC is caused by a poxvirus called the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV). The virus is spread either by direct contact, including sexual activity, or via contaminated objects such as towels. The condition can also be spread to other areas of the body by the person themselves. Risk factors include a weak immune system, atopic dermatitis, and crowded living conditions. Following one infection, it is possible to get reinfected.


Approximately 122 million people globally were affected by molluscum contagiosum as of 2010 (1.8% of the population). It is more common in children between the ages of one and ten years old. The condition has become more common in the United States since 1966. MC is not a reason to keep a child out of school or daycare.


Prevention includes hand washing and not sharing personal items. While treatment is not necessary some may wish to have the lesions removed for cosmetic reasons or to prevent spread. Removal may occur with freezing, opening up the lesion and scraping the inside, or laser therapy. Scraping the lesion can, however, result in scarring. The medication cimetidine by mouth or podophyllotoxin cream applied to the skin may also be used for treatment.


Most cases of molluscum contagiosum will clear up naturally within two years (usually within nine months). So long as the skin growths are present, there is a possibility of transmitting the infection to another person. When the growths are gone, the possibility of spreading the infection is ended.

Top UK Dermatologists Online Consultation

For more information on this topic please click on the links below

Link to British Association of Dermatologists article on dermatology from DermUK
Link to DermNet NZ article on dermatology from DermUK
Link to Medscape dermatology article from DermUK
Link to NICE clinical knowledge summary on dermatology from DermUK

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