Molluscum contagiosum – symptoms, causes and its complications

Molluscum contagiosum

This is a very common viral infection of the skin which results in round, firm and painless bumps that can range in their sizes, such as from a pinhead to a pencil eraser. If these bumps are injured or scratched, then the infection can spread to the surrounding skin. Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a virus. This virus is called Molluscum contagiosum virus and it is producing bening raised lesions or bumps on the upper layers of your skin. These small bumps are usually painless. This condition is most common in children but also it can affect adults, particularly people who have weakened immune system. In adults who have normal immune system, when they are affected by the Molluscum contagiosum, then this infection is involving the genitals and it is considered as a sexually transmitted infection. [1] This infection can spread through direct person – to – person contact and through contact with contaminated objects. Bumps which are associated with Molluscum contagiosum usually disappear within a year without treatment from doctor but the doctor – assisted removal is also an option for Molluscum contagiosum. There are many medications which are available for Molluscum contagiosum but in the most cases there is no need for it. These bumps disappear on their own and there are rare cases when they leave scars when they are left untreated. The length of this virus can last different for each person but these bumps can last from 2 months to 4 years. [2]

Symptoms of Molluscum contagiosum

If you or your children had come in contact with the Molluscum contagiosum virus, then you may not notice symptoms of this infection for up to 6 months. The average incubation period is between 2 and 7 weeks. [2] There can be a small group of painless lesions and you may not notice them. They can appear alone or they can be in a patch of as many as twenty. Signs and symptoms of this infection include bumps on the skin which:

  • May be seen on the genitals, lower abdomen and inner upper thighs in adults if the infection was sexually transmitted
  • They are present anywhere except on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet
  • Usually appear on the face, neck, armpits, arms and tops of the hands in children
  • They can be easily removed by scratching or rubbing, which can spread the virus to adjacent skin
  • May be itchy
  • They are between two and five millimeters in diameter, or between the size of the head of a pin and size of an eraser on the top of a pencil
  • They are firm and shaped like a dome with a dent or dimple in the middle
  • Can become red and inflamed
  • Characteristically have a small indentation (umbilication) or dot at the top near the center
  • They are flesh – colored, white or pink
  • Are small – typically under about ¼ inch (smaller than 6 millimeters) in diameter; also they are very small, shiny and smooth in appearance
  • Are raised, round and flesh colored
  • They are filled with a central core of waxy material

If you or your children have weakened immune system, then you can have symptoms which are more significant. If you suspect that you or your child has Molluscum contagiosum, then you need to talk with your doctor about this condition. The bumps are usually appearing on the face and they are typically resistant to treatment.

Molluscum contagiosum

Causes for Molluscum contagiosum

The virus which is the cause for Molluscum contagiosum spreads easily through:

  • Sexual contact with an affected partner [3]
  • Contact with contaminated objects, such as toys, towels and faucet handles [4]
  • Direct skin to skin contact

If you rub or scratch the bumps, then this will spread the virus to the nearby skin.

Risk factors: People who have atopic dermatitis and people who have weakened immune system are having increased chances of developing Molluscum contagiosum. [5]

Complications: The skin around them and the bumps may become red and inflamed. This is thought to be an immune response to the infection. If these bumps are scratched, then they can become infected. If the lesions appear on your eyelids, then the conjunctivitis (pinkeye) can develop.


[1] Meza-Romero R, Navarrete-Dechent C, Downey C. Molluscum contagiosum: an update and review of new perspectives in etiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. 2019;12:373–81.

[2] Schaffer JV, Berger EM. Molluscum contagiosum. JAMA Dermatology. 2016;152(9):1072.

[3] Konya J, Thompson CH. Molluscum contagiosum virus: Antibody responses in persons with clinical lesions and seroepidemiology in a representative Australian population. The Journal of Infectious Diseases. 1999;179(3):701-4.

[4] Bhatia AC. Molluscum contagiosum. 2020. Retrieved from

[5] Olsen JR, Piguet V, Gallacher J, Francis NA. Molluscum contagiosum and associations with atopic eczema in children: a retrospective longitudinal study in primary care. British Journal of General Practice. 2016;66(642):e53–e58.


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