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What is molluscum and what do I do about it?

Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin condition caused by a contagious virus. People usually get it by skin-on-skin contact but sharing of objects like towels can also spread the virus. Molluscum is typically found in children, although it is possible for adults to get the disease as well. The virus produces small, often numerous, pimple-like lesions on the skin. The infection is only on the surface of the skin—it does not go inside the body or into the blood. Lesions can be itchy and can bleed or get infected, especially if they are picked at. Spots are not thought to be dangerous but can be unsightly and troublesome to patients and their families.

There are three main categories of treatment options for molluscum. The first is “watchful waiting”. Molluscum lesions generally resolve on their own over time so it is not necessarily urgent to do anything immediately. Unfortunately waiting for the body’s healing mechanisms to kick in and cure the lesions can take months or even years. During that time the molluscum can spread. Some patients who delay treatment wind up with numerous, widespread molluscum. These individuals often regret not treating when there were fewer lesions.

The two other types of treatment are topical therapies with different creams and destruction of individual lesions by either freezing, scraping, or caustic/blistering agents. Treating molluscum can often be a frustrating process for pateints. There is no cream or topical agent (either by prescription or over-the-counter) that is perfectly successful. Often treatment with creams requires a trial-and-error approach. Destroying lesions one by one is usually successful if a patient sticks with it. The downsides of this treatment are the pain associated with the therapy itself and the possibility that more than one visit may be required to get rid of all the lesions.

Jeremy Moss, M.D. Ph.D. Dr. Jeremy Moss, a board certified dermatologist, is an associate professor of dermatology at Yale University and on the active medical staff at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

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