Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus, which is a type of poxvirus. While it is not exclusively a sexually transmitted infection, most adults will get it from sexual contact with an infected person, and develop this infection around the genital area. The good news is that molluscum contagiosum is pretty harmless, yes, even with that intimidating name!
1. It’s easy to diagnose.
Molluscum contagiosum shows up on the skin as small round bumps on the skin which may be firm and itchy. These bumps usually have a little indentation or dimple in the middle, which is why we call it “umbilicated” – like umbilicus or belly button. The bumps are usually pink or skin-coloured.
How do I test for molluscum contagiosum?
Because of the characteristic nature of the bumps on the skin, no testing is usually required. Most healthcare providers will be able to identify it without any problems. If there is any doubt, you doctor can do a skin biopsy just to confirm, but this is usually unnecessary.
2. Molluscum contagiosum spreads really easily.
Molluscum contagiosum is spread via skin-to-skin contact. This contact doesn’t have to be from genital skin though. You can contract it from non-sexual touching as well as from inanimate objects, such as sharing of towels and clothes.
This means that children can also get it.
These bumps can occur anywhere on the skin, from the face, to the genitals and buttocks, to the feet. The most common places affected in adults are the upper thighs, buttocks, vulva, penis, scrotum and lower abdomen.
You can start seeing bumps form from about 1 week to 6 months after you have had contact with the virus. But they tend to disappear on their own within a few months.
If your immune system is compromised, from HIV, cancer or certain types of medication, the infection can get a lot worse. You may have larger bumps in larger quantities. These are more difficult to treat.
3. The bumps are easily removable.
If you have a lot of bumps or they are bugging you or making you feel insecure, we can remove them. There are a few options for this. You can put on a special ointment to shrink them at home, or a doctor can cut or freeze them off for you in the doctor’s office.
Podophyllin cream can be applied to each individual bump but it is not safe for pregnant women.
Other options for topical therapy include tincture of iodine, silver nitrate, salicylic acid, potassium hydroxide, tretinoin, or imiquimod. Which one you choose will depend on the severity and location of the infection. It is best to discuss your options with your doctor.
4. You are contagious for a long time.
If you still have bumps on your skin, then yes, you are contagious and can pass the infection on to others. You can do this through sexual contact, sharing of towels or clothes. Basically anything that touches your bumps then touches someone else’s skin.
Molluscum contagiosum is very easy to get and pass on, but don’t let this scare you too much. This infection is common, but is easy to treat and doesn’t cause significant health problems.
5. You can spread the infection from one part of your body to the other.
Yup. It’s called auto-inoculation. If you scratch the bumps on your genitals and then scratch your arm, you may start developing bumps on your arm too.
It’s best to keep the areas that are affected covered, and wash your hands after touching the area. You can even use different towels for the affected and non-affected parts of your body for better control.
In addition, in order to prevent spreading of the infection, do not shave on or close to the affected areas.
Want to know more about how to protect yourself?
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Remember that this skin infection is more of a hassle than anything else. It is easily spread to others and can affect any area of the body. If you are worried that you may have this infection, it is best to see you healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Sexually transmitted infections can look very similar to each other, so seeing an professional is important.