Molluscum Contagiosum: Canadian Health&Care Mall Research
Molluscum contagiosum is an infectious disease that is caused by poxvirus. The main symptom of molluscum is small lesions (or growths) on the body that are normally pink or flesh-colored. The growths can appear on any area of the body, and aren’t especially prevalent in any particular location. It was observed, however, that they hardly ever appear on palms or soles of the feet.
In most cases, the lesions are small and quite firm. They often resemble a pearl in shape. Their size usually lies within the range of 2 – 5 millimeters in diameter. Lesions often appear in groups (up to twenty growths), but sometimes they are singular. They can get swollen, red and sore, as well as itchy after a certain stretch of time.
In people whose immune system doesn’t function properly, molluscum causes bigger lesions, which can sometimes reach 15 millimeters in diameter. They are more likely to appear in the facial area and be resistant to treatment in such patients.
The lesions usually start growing within a month after contracting the virus, but sometimes, the condition shows no symptoms for as long as six months. Normally, it takes less than one year for them to disappear of their own accord. However, in some patients, that process can last considerably longer (up to four years).
How Is Molluscum Spread?
Molluscum contagiosum is usually transmitted through physical contact with an infected person. However, in some cases, it can also be contracted through contact with some inanimate objects, such as clothes, bed linen, towels, sports equipment or toys. Molluscum is often transmitted through public gyms and swimming pools, but it is still unclear whether the virus is capable of surviving in water for a long time or not. Most recent studies of the subject show that molluscum is more likely to be transmitted through dry objects than through moist ones or through the water.
It is common for children to become infected with molluscum through sharing contaminated toys, while teenagers and adults tend to contract the disease through sexual activity. People who are already infected often spread molluscum to multiple areas of their bodies by scratching the lesions or damaging them in some other way. This allows the virus to leave the growth and be transferred further along the skin of the palms or any other surface that has made contact with the damaged lesion.
Medical practitioners are still not sure whether molluscum can be spread from one person to another through lesions that have not been visibly damaged. The evidence is rather controversial: sometimes patients report cases of virus transmission through seemingly intact lesions, while other patients believe that the growths aren’t contagious unless they are damaged.
Molluscum is confined to the upper layers of skin, so it is unable to circulate within the body with blood or other substances. Thus, the disease cannot be transmitted through sneezing or coughing. Unlike the herpes virus, molluscum is incapable of staying dormant inside the organism for long periods of time. It normally starts an outbreak, which leads to the appearance of the lesions, and once they are gone, the virus is gone as well, and can no longer be transferred to other people.
Molluscum contagiosum is a rather common disease, so virtually anyone can get infected, but some population groups are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. They include:
- children who are between one and ten years old
- people whose immune systems do not function properly due to HIV infection, taking immunosuppressive medications, or undergoing chemotherapy
- people who live in places with a hot, wet climate
- people who practice sports that involve a lot of contact with the bare skin of other players (wrestling, football, etc.)
Patients who already suffer from a medical condition that affects the skin are more likely to contract other skin diseases, including molluscum, as their immune systems are weakened and their skin is often covered in rashes or sores, which makes it vulnerable to viral and bacterial intrusions.
How Is Molluscum Diagnosed and Treated?
Molluscum contagiosum is a disease that has rather distinct visible symptoms, so for an experienced healthcare provider, a physical exam will usually be enough to give a precise diagnosis. Should that be insufficient, additional tests will be performed. They include biopsy (collecting tissue samples from the lesions with the help of a thin needle, for further analysis in a specialized laboratory) and skin scraping (an alternative method of collecting the tissue samples).
Normally, molluscum can be left untreated. However, it is crucial that your medical practitioner is sure about the diagnosis, as molluscum isn’t the only disease that produces growths. It is possible that your lesions can be caused by skin cancer, HSV or chickenpox. All of those are conditions that require proper treatment.
If the reason behind your lesions is definitely molluscum, and your immune system function is normal, the growths are highly likely to disappear even without any medications.
Nevertheless, in some cases, it is highly recommended to treat molluscum to avoid possible complications:
- if your lesions are big and/or situated in the facial area or on your neck
- if you suffer not only from molluscum but from another skin disease as well
- if you are afraid of transferring the virus to other people
There are many different methods available to treat molluscum. During cryotherapy, the lesions are frozen with liquid nitrogen. If you choose laser therapy, the lesions will be burned with a special laser beam. Topical therapy involves applying special creams or gels to the contaminated area. The medications are based on acids, which are capable of slowly peeling away the skin, together with the lesions. Finally, curettage is a technique which involves cutting the growths from the inside and scraping them away from the skin.
These methods aren’t always painless, and sometimes, they might cause permanent damage to the skin, which will result in scarring. There is also an alternative therapy often used in children because they are afraid of pain and/or because scars are to be avoided. It involves taking special medications which make the lesions disappear faster than they would have done of their own accord. The medicines are oral, so they can be taken at home and are easy to tolerate, but in the case of facial growths, they often turn out to be ineffective.
If you decide to resort to any of the potentially painful and stressful approaches to treating molluscum, you have to take into consideration the fact that every lesion is treated separately. If you have many growths, or if they are particularly large, you might need quite a few sessions to get rid of them. If new bumps appear after the previous ones have been treated, the sessions are repeated once in several weeks to ensure that the desired effect is achieved.
You might also have to be treated for molluscum if your immune system is weakened and/or not functioning properly. For people who have HIV, the best option is addressing the immune system deficiency itself, so that the organism is capable of destroying the virus on its own.
Prevention and Possible Complications
The organism does not develop any defense mechanisms against molluscum, so a person who was infected once might contract the virus again further in their life. The disease itself generally does not have any complications, and it often disappears even without any treatment. However, should treatment be needed, it might leave scars, which is why it isn’t recommended for otherwise healthy patients.
A common side effect of molluscum is its ability to cause secondary infections. This might be dangerous for patients who have been previously diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. Proper treatment, regardless of its consequences, is highly recommended for them, as well as for those whose immune system is for some reason incapable of normal function.
The best way to prevent yourself from being infected with molluscum is avoiding direct contact with the skin of an infected person.
Here are some more tips to help you protect your family and yourself from the virus:
- wash your hands on a regular basis, using warm water and soap
- instruct your children to do the same, as they are quite likely to contract molluscum while playing with other children
- don’t share your towels, clothes, hairbrushes, etc. with other people
- try to avoid using wearable sports equipment in public gyms
If you have already been infected, you can try to stop the virus from spreading further throughout your body and to other people. Keep the growths clean and as intact as possible: avoid scratching them, do not shave the skin near them and do not touch or pick the lesions. If you have them in the genital area, it is recommended that you avoid any sexual contact until the bumps disappear.
Article by Canadian Health&Care Mall Research Team