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Molluscum contagiosum is a benign viral infection of the skin seen most commonly in children. The virus lives only in the top layer of the skin and does not circulate through the bloodstream or infect other parts of the body.

What does Molluscum Contagiosum Look Like?

Molluscum spots are typically small pink or skin-coloured bumps with a pit in the centre.  They can occur anywhere on the body.

What Causes Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum is a viral infection.  It is transmitted from person to person, usually by skin-to-skin contact.  It is frequently seen in children who spread it during play.  In adults, molluscum is usually seen in the genital area and is most often transmitted sexually.

Does Molluscum Contagiosum Have to be Treated?

Not necessarily.  The majority of cases of molluscum will disappear on their own within 6-12 months.  Left untreated, almost all cases of molluscum will resolve spontaneously within 2 years.  If cases of molluscum are itchy, uncomfortable or otherwise bothersome they should be treated.  Molluscum in adults that is sexually transmitted should be treated to minimize the risk of spread.

How is Molluscum Treated?

There are several different ways of treating molluscum.  These include:  

  • The use of Cantharone at your doctor's office
  • Creams that contain salicylic acid, podophyllin, tretinoin or imiquimod
  • Application of liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
  • "Scraping off" of molluscum lesions (curettage)
  • The oral medication Cimetidine 

Liquid Nitrogen (Cryotherapy)

The most common way in which molluscum infections are treated in adults in a doctor's office is with liquid nitrogen.  Nitrogen is a gas that makes up most of the air we breathe.  When it is made very cold (-196 °C) it becomes a liquid.  When this liquid is applied to molluscum lestions (or other skin growths), it causes a separation in the skin.  The top layer peels off within 1-3 weeks and takes all or part of the molluscum with it.  

Treatments with liquid nitrogen are uncomfortable for a brief period of time.  They frequently cause blistering or scabbing which is normal.   The blisters can be popped with a sterile needle if desired.  Multiple treatments are often required.