What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Q: I have heard that kids can get these warty growths from sharing towels?  What are these things?

A: You are probably referring to molluscum contagiosum, which are skin growths caused by viruses (like warts). They are extremely common and are contagious. The lesions look like pearly little bumps, often with a dark center.  Molluscum can be found on any part of the body.  They are often found in conjunction with eczema. As the lesions are scratched or rubbed, they release more viral particles to infection other areas of skin. The condition can be spread to other people, in moist settings, like sharing towels, etc. The molluscum are usually asymptomatic and more of a cosmetic problem, unless they become infected (red and purulent appearing).

There are several ways to treat this condition. The easiest (and cheapest) is benign neglect. The lesions can disappear on their own in 6-18 months after appearance (sometimes longer), with little or no scarring. Physicians can scrape the lesions off, which is a painful procedure that is capable of causing scarring. Cryotherapy or freezing can help, but again, can be painful. Another option is applying Cantharidin, an extract from the blister beetle insects. The liquid is applied to the lesion and causes a blister to form, which destroys the skin cells infected with the virus. The liquid is allowed to dry, then rinsed off the skin in about four hours. It can be 90 percent effective in eradicating the lesion. The blistering can be a little painful, but usually controlled with over-the-counter pain medication.  Scarring is uncommon. 

If you believe your child has molluscum contagiosum, and are considering having them removed, your child’s health care provider can treat them or refer you to a specialist who can discuss treatment options.

By Sharon Rink, MD, pediatrician, ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy.