“Molluscum contagiosum” – sounds so cool…. like something out of a Harry Potter book doesn’t it?
Maybe the utterance you use to concoct a magic linctus in Potions class that you distil into shellfish served at dinner to poison your mortal enemies!!
But no, no no. Instead the reality is much more boring. It is an extremely common viral skin infection that occurs in children (and less commonly in teens and adults) that causes a bumpy rash on the skin. I would see cases of it most weeks in clinics. The bumps (also called mollusca) start off looking like little pimples, then develop into round lumps that are shiny or pearly in appearance (unlike warts (that are also caused by a virus, but a different virus) that have a “cauliflower-like” surface) and often have a little dimple in the centre. Check out the images in the gallery above. They can pop up pretty much anywhere, but are common on the trunk, limbs, face and sometimes even genitalia. The lesions are generally not painful and can occasionally be itchy.
How do kids/people catch molluscum?
Molluscum is usually passed on in the bath or infected swimming pools because the molluscum virus is found in warm water. They can also be spread by sharing face washers and towels, or by direct skin-to-skin contact.
It can take 2-8 weeks following contact with molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV – a type of pox virus) to develop spots and they commonly spread into clusters, and can last from several months to years in some cases.
How to prevent spread: GOOD HYGEINE!!!!
- Don’t allow your children to share baths or towels with other children
- If your child has mollusca already, opt for a shower instead of a bath- the virus can spread to other parts of the body in the bath water!!
- The virus can be spread from one part of the body to other parts of the body (in the same individual) so try to dry the areas with molluscum spots last, then throw the towel into the wash!!
- Don’t share clothing!
- Wash and dry bath toys after use – these can be a vector for the virus to spread
- Wash your hands after touching molluscum spots.
Treatment is not always needed. The molluscum spots can be unsightly and even though most kids will only get 5-10 spots, sometimes there can be a lot of them, but eventually the body’s immune system will fight the virus off and they will disappear. Unfortunately, this process can take a long time in some children.
There are quite a few different types of these kinds of solutions but basically they are designed to irritate the skin to make the body’s immune system fight the virus more quickly. Some examples are salicylic acid, imiquimod (Aldara) – but these can irritate or blister normal/unaffected surrounding skin.
You can see your GP or dermatologist for interventions such as curettage or cryotherapy. Curettage essentially involves applying a local anaesthetic cream and the scraping the lesions to remove them. This can work in older kids and teenagers, but not generally tolerated in young children. Cryotherapy is using liquid nitrogen to freeze the bumps (just like is done for warts) – it is effective but can be painful and therefore less practical where there are many molluscum lesions.
Covering the molluscum bumps with duct tape irritates them and just like the topical treatments above, triggers the immune system to turn on and fight the virus. Try to cover as many as possible, and when the covered ones become red and start to disappear, often all of them will go away. The aim is to keep them covered, and remove the tape once per day usually before a shower, then cover again after.
Hope this post was helpful and as usual – give me a hand by hitting SHARE and LIKE so we can help as many parents and kids as possible!
Till next time – stay well!