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Molluscum

  • Molluscum is a common viral skin infection that causes small, harmless, raised spots to appear on the skin. It is caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus. Once infected, your child can easily spread molluscum to other people, or to different areas on their own body. It is spread by touching the molluscum spots, and through bath or pool water, bath toys and towels.

    Molluscum spots may stay on the body for a few weeks, several months or more than a year. Molluscum does not usually need any treatment. 

    Signs and symptoms of molluscum

    At first, molluscum spots look like white pimples. They then become round, pearl-coloured lumps that have a white mark or indentation in the centre. They are usually one to five millimetres  in size, but can be as big as two centimetres. Generally, molluscum spots are found on the stomach, face, arms, legs or in the nappy area.

    Molluscum spots are painless and usually not itchy.

    How is molluscum spread?

    The molluscum virus is found in warm water, so children are often infected in swimming pools and baths. Sharing towels and face washers is another way to spread the virus. Molluscum can also be spread from skin-to-skin contact involving the molluscum spots.

    It can take weeks or even months for the spots to appear after your child has come into contact with the molluscum virus.

    Good personal hygiene is important to help prevent molluscum spreading. If your child has molluscum:

    • Give your child showers instead of baths. The molluscum virus can spread to other parts of the body through the bath water.
    • If your child does have a bath, don’t share baths with other children and avoid bath toys.
    • The virus can be spread when drying with a towel, so try to dry areas with the molluscum spots last.
    • Wash and dry any bath toys after use, as they can spread the virus.
    • Do not share towels, face washers or clothing.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching your child’s molluscum spots.

    Most adults have been exposed to molluscum in their youth and are therefore immune, so it is not likely you will become infected by touching your child's spots.

    Treatment for molluscum

    Treatment for molluscum is not routinely recommended because most cases clear up on their own in around six to 18 months. If left alone, molluscum does not tend to result in any scarring. Many of the treatment options available can be painful and may increase the chance of scaring. Some treatments may also increase the risk of spreading the infection. 

    Treatment is usually only recommended for children who have unsightly lesions or if the lesions are affecting their quality of life. Treatment may also be recommended for children with weakened immune symptoms as the virus can take several years to clear in these cases. If your child is experiencing both eczema and molluscum, the eczema needs to be treated before any treatment for molluscum can take place.

    If the spots are causing problems, consult a GP, dermatologist or dermatology nurse practitioner to explore treatment options.

    When to see a doctor

    Sometimes, the skin around the molluscum spots can develop a rash and the skin can become infected with bacteria. If this happens, take your child to a GP. Antibiotics may be prescribed for the skin infection, but the antibiotics do not treat the molluscum spots themselves, because antibiotics do not work against viruses.

    Key points to remember

    • Molluscum is caused by a virus, resulting in small, harmless, raised spots. The spots are painless and usually not itchy.
    • It is spread easily from person to person by touching the molluscum spots, and through bath or pool water, bath toys and towels.
    • Good hygiene can help reduce the spread of the infection.
    • Treatment is not always needed. If the skin around the spots becomes infected, antibiotics may be prescribed.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    Why does my child scratch at their molluscum?

    Molluscum spots usually don’t itch. It's more likely that the molluscum has caused a local flare up of pre-existing eczema, which may be itchy.

    Can my child go to child care if she has molluscum?

    Children with molluscum can go to school, child care and kindergarten, and play with other children, because clothing usually covers the affected areas.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Dermatology and Emergency departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed July 2020.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit  www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.