Fortunately, it is a self-limited skin infection, meaning it will disappear spontaneously, without specific treatment. Although this is the case, a single molluscum contagiosum papule may take from three months to two years to disappear. For this reason, many people may prefer to eliminate the infection as soon as possible and seek treatment, since molluscum contagiosum may cause physical or emotional discomfort and can be spread.
Papules appear on your skin when the molluscum contagiosum virus successfully reproduces within your skin cells. The virus can enter your body through pores, hair follicles, or through abrasions on the skin surface. The virus then inserts part of itself into your skin, where it is replicated many times. This causes the skin cells to swell and rupture, creating raised, pearly, skin-colored papules on the skin surface with an infectious virus-containing core at the center. If a papule is scratched or picked, the infectious central core is released and can be spread to whatever is subsequently touched, including uninfected areas of the body or other people. Rarely, transmission can occur when objects that an infected person has touched come in contact with an uninfected area or person.
Molluscum contagiosum can appear anywhere on your body, although it rarely affects the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. This condition occurs most frequently in children between the ages of one and ten, in sexually active adults, and in individuals with a compromised immune system. In children, molluscum contagiosum commonly occurs on exposed areas of skin such as the face, trunk, arms, and legs. In sexually active adults, this infection is typically found on the lower abdomen, buttocks, groin, genitals, and inner thighs. In individuals with a compromised immune system, molluscum contagiosum frequently occurs on the face as well as in the genital region.
If you are infected with molluscum contagiosum, it is important to take precautions to avoid spreading it to uninfected areas of your skin or to other people. If you anticipate contact with other people, all areas infected by the virus should be covered by a bandage or clothing. Your clothing, towels, and personal items should not be shared with others. Papules should not be scratched, picked, or touched, and in the case that they are, you should wash your hands immediately and thoroughly. In addition, shaving any infected areas should be strictly avoided. If the molluscum contagiosum infection affects your genital region, sexual activity should be avoided until after all papules have cleared.
To effectively treat molluscum contagiosum, the infectious, virus-containing core at the center of each papule must be destroyed. Once the core of each papule is eliminated, the infection will subside and the virus can no longer be spread. The virus-containing cores can be destroyed by various treatments. A curette, scalpel, or other cutting device can be used to surgically remove the papules. Infected individuals can also undergo cryotherapy, in which a substance, such as liquid nitrogen, is applied to the papules to freeze and destroy the infected cells. Pulsed dye lasers can be used to target and destroy infected cells with light energy. Additionally, a variety of astringent chemical agents such a podophyllin, cantharidin, or trichloroacetic acid can be used to destroy layers of skin containing the cells infected with the molluscum contagiosum virus. The virus-packed cores are eliminated when the dead skin sloughs off, and healthy, virus-free skin grows back in its place.
Although molluscum contagiosum can be unsightly or uncomfortable, this infection is not life-threatening. However, because it is contagious, precautions must be taken to avoid spreading the infectious virus to other parts of the body or other people. For those who prefer to eliminate the infection before it resolves on its own, several treatment options are available. Consult your physician to find the best treatment option to fit your particular needs