Molluscum is a viral skin infection caused by the virus molluscum contagiosum. It spreads by close physical contact, including sexual contact.
It can also be passed on by sharing objects like towels or flannels.
Symptoms of molluscum
- Raised, painless pink or red spots which may be itchy are the only symptom of the virus.
- The spots might have a small white or yellow head and look pearly. They tend to be 2 to 5mm wide.
- Never squeeze the spots. The substance inside them is very contagious, so squeezing them could spread the infection to other parts of your body.
- If you have caught molluscum sexually, you are likely to have spots around your groin, genital area, lower abdomen, buttocks and upper thighs.
- The spots will usually clear up in around 6 to 18 months.
How it's passed on
Molluscum is spread through close physical contact or by sharing something like a towel that is contaminated.
It’s particularly common in people who have a weakened immune system, including people living with HIV who have a very low CD4 count.
Molluscum can spread through sexual contact - this means any type of sexual activity including sexual intercourse.
Using a condom while having sex will reduce the risk of passing it on, but it’s still possible because molluscum can be transferred by close skin contact.
If you have molluscum you're considered to be contagious until the last spot has completely healed.
Molluscum tests and treatment
A nurse or doctor can diagnose molluscum by looking at the spots. If they are uncertain of the diagnosis, they can take a skin sample (biopsy) and test it for the virus.
The infection usually clears up without treatment in six to 18 months. However, if you have HIV with a very low CD4 count, it may take longer to clear up.
In some cases a doctor or nurse may prescribe treatment to try to clear up molluscum faster, especially if the spots are affecting your quality of life or if you have HIV. However, some treatments can have side effects.