Kids Health Info

Molluscum

  • 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.

    Signs and symptoms

    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 KHI - RCH

    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.

    How is it spread?

    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.

    Treatment

    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.  

    Tape stripping

    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.

    'Irritating solutions'

    If tape stripping by itself is not effective, applying an irritating solution such as Benzac gel (benzoyl peroxide 10%) 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.

    Aluminium acetate (Burow's solution)

    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

    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. 

    At home care

    Strict attention to hygiene is very important. Children with molluscum should do the following:

    • Have a shower instead of a bath. The molluscum virus can live in the bath water and spread to other parts of the body.
    • Wash and dry any bath toys every day after use. Bath toys can spread the virus.
    • Be careful when drying your child after their shower. The virus can be spread on the towel, so try to dry areas with the molluscum spots last. 
    • Do not share baths with other children.
    • Do not share towels, face washers (flannels) or clothing.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching the molluscum lumps.
    • Children with molluscum can go to school and play with other children, because clothing usually covers the affected areas.

    Key points to remember

    • Molluscum lesions are caused by a virus.
    • It is spread from person to person by touching the molluscum. It is also easily spread through bath or pool water, bath toys and towels.
    • It is not life threatening.
    • The spots can last for weeks to years.
    • Treatment is not always needed.
    • Careful hygiene can help reduce the spread of the infection.
    • Treatment is designed to irritate the molluscum causing it to become red and inflammed.
    • The treatment may also irritate the surrounding skin.
    • Molluscum contagiosum often causes a flare up of eczema, before and during treatment.

    For more information

    • See your local family doctor (GP)
    • See your local pharmacist
    • See your Child and Maternal Health Nurse
    • Better Health Channel www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

     

    Developed by the Dermatology Department in consultation with Infection Control, Pharmacy and Emergency Department.  First published 2003. Updated November 2010.

Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts.