All You Need to Know About Molluscum Contagiosum
Also referred to as water wart, this is a relatively common skin infection that is caused by the Molluscum contagiosum virus, which belongs to a group of pox virus. It usually manifests as harmless raised bumps or visible lesions on your skin’s outermost layer. It can equally manifest as raised, pearly skin-colored bumps that may occasionally feature a central dimple usually referred to as central umbilication. They are usually smooth and firm. It is also worth mentioning that Mollusca may occur anywhere on your body, including the neck, face, arms, legs, genital area, and abdomen.
So, how does it spread?
The virus that causes molluscum typically spreads from direct person-to-person physical contact as well as via contaminated fomites. If you didn’t you, know, fomites are inanimate objects that can potentially become contaminated with a virus. So, when you get into direct contact with the infected person’s molluscum lesions, you will likely contract the disease.
As stated earlier, the water wart virus can live and survive on inanimate objects and will remain on surfaces such as clothing, gym equipment, towels, among other types of surfaces for some time. So, by coming in close contact with any infected item or object you’ll potentially become infected. What’s more, if you are already infected with the virus, and you regularly scratch or touch those lesions in your body then touch unaffected areas within your body, you’ll simply be transferring the virus to those particular areas. Equally, shaving the affected body region can potentially spread the virus or worsen the infection. However, once your lesions resolve, you will no longer be contagious.
So, who is at risk of contracting molluscum contagiosum?
The molluscum contagiosum virus can attack anybody. However, it tends to be more common among young children who are known to transfer the virus as they interact and play.
Among adults, the virus mainly spreads via contact brought about by sexual intercourse, implying that it may be regarded to be a sexually transmitted disease. The resulting lesions usually stay on the lower abdominal region to the external genitalia as well as perineum.
Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those suffering from underlying health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, immunosuppressed patients as well as those with existing skin conditions such as eczema are a relatively high risk of becoming infected.
So, how do I know if I have molluscum contagiosum?
After contracting this particular virus, it may take up to half a year before you experience any related symptom. This is because the virus has an approximate incubation time frame of about 2-7 weeks. With time, you may start to experience the growth of a small cluster of pain-free lesions, which are may appear alone as well as in a cluster of as many as 10 or more. They are usually:
- Nanoscopic, shiny, and firm in terms of appearance.
- Flesh-colored, pink, or white.
- Feature a central dimple.
- Between 2 and 5 millimeters in diameter.
However, those having highly vulnerable immune systems may experience symptoms that are somewhat more severe. They may experience somewhat larger contagiosum lesions. What’s more, the bumps will tend to attack their facial areas and are usually resistant to treatment. It is also important to note that these symptoms usually subside between two weeks and two months after infection, but may as well fail to show for up half a year or even more.
What can molluscum contagiosum lead to?
This is nearly a harmless and perhaps self-limiting health condition. However, if you continuously scratch your lesions, you may experience skin blemish (scarring) as well as consequential bacterial infections.
So, how is it diagnosed?
Bearing in mind that the skin lesions that form as a result of contagiosum usually feature a unique appearance, your healthcare provider can easily identify this disease through physical visualization. However, if the lesions seem suspicious, your physician may conduct skin scraping. By carefully examining those lesions under the microscope, he will easily identify any contagiosum elements, confirming the diagnosis as a result. Such medical diagnosis will help dispel any other potential lesion causes, including chickenpox, skin cancer, or warts.
So, what are my treatment options?
It is always advisable to seek treatment for contagiosum because the lesions ultimately heal by themselves without any visible signs or any other complication, usually resolving after twelve months or longer. However, it is very important having a physician assessing and examining any type of skin lesion that takes fairly long to heal.
The available treatment options include:
- Topical ointments or creams. However, the effectiveness of these topical medications may likely vary.
- Physical lesion elimination through either cryotherapy or minor procedural treatment.
- In immunocompromised patients, regular treatments may not work. In this regard, specialized treatments such as intra-lesional may be needed.
What can molluscum contagiosum lead to?
As we previously explained, the bumps or lesions that occur as a result of the molluscum virus are usually benign and resolve without scarring. However, scratching the lesions or using scooping and scraping to eliminate the lesions can lead to scarring. Perhaps this is the main reason why physically removing the bumps is always not recommended, especially in somewhat healthier individuals.
The most common complication is a secondary infection caused by bacteria. Secondary infections can potentially lead to significant health problems in immunocompromised patients. In such a case, your doctor will recommend the best treatment that can prevent the virus from spreading to other areas within the body.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How do I reduce my risk of contracting molluscum contagiosum?
Several practical and effective measures can potentially help you reduce your risk of getting water warts
- Practicing good hygiene habits such as regularly washing your hands, using your towel, and washing every piece of gym equipment before usage, and perhaps covering equipment using your towel as opposed to lying or sitting on it directly.
- Don’t share personal items including razors.
- If you are already infected, you shouldn’t touch the lesions.
- Don’t physically scratch or pop your lesions. Also, you shouldn’t shave them.
- Molluscum lesions should be covered, using perhaps a plaster to minimize infection risk.
- Adults having lesions in their genital region should not engage in sexual activity until they have been successfully treated.
- And if you suspect that your skin bumps or lumps may likely be Mollusca, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Can I swim if I have molluscum contagiosum?
Though the virus can potentially be transmitted by sharing swimming pools, saunas, baths, or other warm or wet environments, there is no scientific research that has been able to prove this. And medical studies only show that it is only likely that Molluscum can spread by sharing towels as well as other items around a swimming pool but not through the pool water.
Will I transfer this virus to other areas within my body?
As earlier explained, an individual having molluscum can potentially transmit it to the virus by either touching or scratching a lesion then scratching unaffected body areas. This is medically referred to as autoinoculation. What’s more, electrolysis and shaving may spread Molluscum to unaffected body areas.
Will I be infected with the virus even after treatment?
Bearing in mind that the virus resides only in your skin’s top layer, once the bumps or lesions are gone, the virus will be gone, implying that you won’t infect others. It is not the same as the herpes virus, which can stay in your body for an extended period and then reappear.
And if in any case, you get molluscum contagiosum after your lesions are cured, it simply means that you have come into contact with either an infected person or object once again.
Am I at a huge risk of molluscum?
You may be at a higher risk of developing molluscum if:
- You have a highly compromised immune system and are already suffering from an existing medical condition such as cancer or HIV. In this case, your lesions may look very different, may seem larger, and be difficult to treat.
- You have atopic dermatitis: This can be a risk factor of developing molluscum contagiosum mainly because of the frequent breaks in the skin. Individuals with this particular condition are also likely to transfer molluscum to other areas within the body for the same reason.
- You live in humid, warm climates where crowding is a concern.
If I have molluscum how can I keep it from spreading?
- The ultimate approach to prevent yourself from getting molluscum is to strictly adhere to good hygiene habits. Remember that the virus only lives in your skin and once your lesions and bumps subside, the virus is completely gone and you won’t spread it to other people.
- Wash your hands regularly. If you didn’t know, keeping your hands clean is the best bet toward keeping molluscum and other infectious diseases at bay. Regular hand-washing helps to remove germs that you may have picked up from other people or germ-filled surfaces.
- Don’t scratch or pick at molluscum lesions.
- It is essential not to pick, touch, or scratch skin that has lesions. As we earlier stated, scratching or picking your skin can help transfer it to body areas, making it fairly easier to spread the disease to other people too.
- Keep molluscum lesions covered. Also, keep the lesions clean and covered with either a bandage or clean clothing, to ensure that other people don’t come into contact with your lesions and become infected. What’s more, keep the affected skin clean and dry.
- If there is no chance that someone will come in contact with your lesions, you can uncover those lessons to help keep your skin healthy.
- If you are a sportsman, be very careful during sporting events. Don’t share clothing, towels, or any other personal items.
- Those who have molluscum shouldn’t participate in sports where contact is possible, including basketball, wrestling, and football unless all their lesions are covered with bandage or clothing.
- Activities that involving sharing essential gear, helmets, and balls should equally be avoided unless all lesions can be covered.
- You should not swim unless all lesions are covered using watertight bandages. Personal swimming items such as goggles, towels, and swimsuits should not be shared. Other items as well as equipment such as water toys, kickboards should only be used when all lesions are covered by either watertight bandages or clothing.
- van der Wouden, J. C., van der Sande, R., Kruithof, E. J., Sollie, A., van Suijlekom-Smit, L. W., & Koning, S. (2017). Interventions for cutaneous molluscum contagiosum. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 5(5), CD004767. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD004767.pub4
- Meza-Romero, R., Navarrete-Dechent, C., & Downey, C. (2019). Molluscum contagiosum: an update and review of new perspectives in etiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 12, 373–381. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S187224
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