Moluscum Contagiosum (MC)
What is it?
Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a viral infection that affects the skin. It most commonly affects children, although it can occur at any age. MC is generally a harmless condition that normally gets better in a few months without any specific treatment. However, it's common for the condition to spread around the body, so it can take up to 18 months or more for the condition to clear completely.
How do I get it?
MC can be spread through:
- close direct contact – such as touching the skin of an infected person
- touching contaminated objects – such as towels, flannels, toys and clothes
- sexual contact – this includes intimate physical contact as well as sexual intercourse.
If you become infected by the virus and spots appear on your skin, the virus can also spread to other areas.
It's not known exactly how long someone with MC is contagious for, but it's thought the contagious period may last up until the last spot has disappeared.
Signs and Symptoms
The main symptom of molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a number of small spots on the skin. The spots are usually firm and dome-shaped, with a small dimple in the middle. They're usually less than 5mm (0.5cm) across, but can sometimes be bigger. They're usually pink or red, although they may have a tiny white or yellow head in the centre. If this head splits, a thick yellowy-white substance will be released, which is highly infectious. It's important not to squeeze the spots, as this will increase the chance of the infection spreading to other parts of the body. The spots associated with MC are usually painless, although they can be itchy and the around them can become red, dry and cracked. When spread during sexual contact, spots can develop on the genitals and nearby skin. Most people have between 20 and 30 spots, although people with a weakened immune system often have more. The spots may develop in small clusters and can be spread across different parts of the body.
The main check for Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is for a doctor or nurse to look at the spots. They may do this using a magnifying lens. There’s no routine blood test for the virus.
Treatment is usually only recommended when the spots are particularly unsightly and affect quality of life, or for people with weakened immune systems.
In such cases, treatments that may be offered include:
- liquids, gels or creams that are applied directly to the skin
- minor procedures such as cryotherapy (where the spots are removed by freezing them).
Further Guidance: Molluscum contagiosum (MC)