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Molluscum is a common skin problem with small, harmless raised spots. The spots can stay on the body for a few weeks, several months or more than a year. It is caused by the Molluscum Contagiosum Virus (MCV). This virus only lives in humans.
Molluscum is contagious and can be spread from person to person or to different areas in the same person. It can also be spread by children sharing baths or pools through bath toys and towels. Usually it does not need any treatment. Good personal hygiene can help prevent it spreading.
At first, the molluscum spots look like pimples. They then become round, pearl coloured lumps that have a white mark or core in the centre. They are usually between one to five millimetres in size, but can be as big as one to two centimetres. Usually they appear on the nappy area, tummy, face, arms and legs.
Molluscum spots usually heal without scarring, although a small 'chicken pox' type scar is sometimes left. Scarring is slightly more likely with more aggressive treatment. Molluscum spots are painless but can be itchy - scratching the spots can also cause scarring.
Molluscum is spread from skin to skin contact when touching the molluscum lumps. Sharing towels and face cloths is another common way to spread the virus. Swimming in pools can also spread it to other children through the pool water. It can take weeks to months for the spots to appear after your child has had contact with the molluscum virus.
Most of the time, molluscum does not need any treatment. The spots usually disappear over a period of time as the body fights and kills the virus. A small number of children can have the spots for several months or years.
No one treatment is effective for all children. More aggressive treatment may cause scarring. For this reason, it is best to try simple treatments first. Simple treatments are designed to irritate the spots. This is to encourage the body's immune system to recognize the virus and destroy the infected cells.
Cover the spots with an occlusive (watertight/waterproof) tape such as duct tape or elastoplast. Leave the tape on for two days, and then pull it off. This irritates the spots. This may need to be done several times to try to remove the central core of the spot. Make sure the adhesive part of the tape directly touches the molluscum. Just covering the molluscum with a bandaid will not work. Betadine may also be applied to the molluscum before applying the tape.
If tape stripping by itself is not effective, applying an irritating solution such as Benzac gel (benzoyl peroxide 5%) or Retin-A (tretinoin cream) to the spots can help. The solution makes the spot become inflamed and needs to be applied carefully to avoid the surrounding skin. The tape stripping then needs to be done each day. See your family doctor first.
If the above two steps do not work, a weak solution of aluminium acetate (Burow's solution) diluted with water (one part Burow's solution to 29 parts water) can be gently dabbed on to the spots after the shower. Allow the solution to dry, then apply the Benzac or Retin-A and then cover with tape. Repeat once every day.
Other creams are available to treat molluscum. There is also a slightly higher risk of mild scarring. Please see your family doctor or dermatologist.
Sometimes the skin around the lumps can get a rash like eczema and the skin can become infected with bacteria. Sometimes antibiotics are used for this skin infection. The antibiotics do not treat the molluscum spots themselves or the molluscum virus, they only treat lumps with bacterial infection.
Strict attention to hygiene is very important. Children with molluscum should do the following:
Developed by the Dermatology Department in consultation with Infection Control, Pharmacy and Emergency Department. First published 2003. Updated November 2010.
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