Center for Young Women's Health

Molluscum Contagiosum



  • Molluscum contagiosum is a virus that causes a skin infection in children and adults.
  • It's spread from person to person during contact sports, sex, or sharing towels with someone who has it.
  • Do NOT scratch or pick at the bumps. See your health care provider.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin infection caused by a virus. It's annoying, but not dangerous. Anyone can get it, but it's most common among children who are 1-10 years old, teens who are sexually active, and people who have trouble fighting off infection.


How is molluscum contagiosum spread?

Molluscum contagiosum is passed from one person to another by direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual contact, through contact sports, and when sharing towels/clothing with someone who has it. The bumps can spread from one part of the body to another by scratching.


What are the symptoms of molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum first appears as very small (about 1/8 inch across) smooth, round, pearly bumps. The bumps are hard with a dimple in the middle. They are the color of your flesh, pink or white and they are usually no bigger than the size of a pencil eraser. You may see them on or around the pubic area, on the stomach, or inner thighs or anywhere on the body except the palms of your hands or the bottom of your feet. There may be one or two bumps or 10 to 20 or more than 50. The bumps are usually not painful or itchy but they can become red, swollen, uncomfortable and even itchy if they become infected. However, redness and soreness can also mean that they are healing naturally. Check with your health care provider.


When do the bumps appear?

The symptoms of molluscum contagiosum can appear within 2-6 weeks after coming in contact with the virus.


How is molluscum contagiosum diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of molluscum contagiosum, you should make an appointment with your health care provider. Your HCP can usually tell if the bumps are caused from the molluscum virus. Very rarely a biopsy may be necessary (a tiny piece of tissue from a bump is sent to the lab) to find out if it's molluscum contagiosum or another skin condition.


How is molluscum contagiosum treated?

Molluscum contagiosum bumps will go away on their own, but it may take months or years. Treatment shortens how long you have them. If you have bumps on your genital area such as your vulva, inner thighs, buttocks and you are sexually active, you should be treated to help prevent spreading the virus to your sexual partner(s).


Treatment may cause pain and scarring, but it's important to know about. Treatment includes:

Is there anything I can do to prevent others from coming in contact with my skin (bumps)?

Yes. It's important to keep the bumps clean and covered with either a watertight bandage or with clothing if you know you'll be coming in contact with others (during contact sports or sharing equipment, such as while swimming). This will lower the chance of spreading the molluscum infection to others. Remember: Don't share personal items such as towels and clothing, and be careful not to shave near the bump(s). You may uncover the bandage(s) when there is no risk you will have skin to skin contact with others.


If you think you could have molluscum contagiosum; avoid sexual contact until you see your health care provider. With or without treatment the bumps may still take a couple of weeks or longer to disappear. Sometimes the bumps disappear on their own within 6-12 months but it can take up to 4 years. When the bumps go away, you can't spread the virus anymore. This is because the virus doesn't stay in your body- it's gone, BUT you can get re-infected. Be sure to practice good hand washing.


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 9/25/2012


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