Skip to main content

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum: This common skin disease causes bumps on the skin and tends to be harmless.

Molluscum contagiosum: Overview

Molluscum (muh-luhs-kum) contagiosum (kən-tā-jē-ō-səm) is a common skin disease. It is caused by a virus. This virus easily spreads from person to person.

People can get molluscum by sharing towels and clothing. Wrestlers and gymnasts may get it from touching infected mats. Skin-to-skin contact also spreads the virus.

Often the only sign of molluscum is pink or flesh-colored bumps on the skin. These bumps can appear anywhere on the skin.

Most people get about 10 to 20 bumps on their skin. If a person has a weakened immune system, many bumps often appear. People who have AIDS can have 100 or more bumps.

Whenever you can see the bumps on the skin, molluscum contagiosum is contagious.

Molluscum contagiousum: These bumps appeared on the neck of a 5-year-old boy. Children often get this skin disease.

Molluscum contagiosum: Signs and symptoms

Bumps on the skin can be the only sign that a person has molluscum contagiosum. These bumps often appear about 7 weeks after being exposed to the virus that causes molluscum. Sometimes, the bumps do not appear for many months.

When the bumps appear on the skin, they often:

Molluscum contagiosum: People who have a weakened immune system can get hundreds of bumps.

In adults, the bumps often appear on the face, neck, armpits, arms, and hands. Other common places for bumps to appear are the genitals, abdomen, and inner thighs. Adults often get molluscum contagiosum through sexual contact.

If a person has a disease that weakens the immune system, such as AIDS, the bumps can grow very large. A person may have 100 or more bumps on the face alone.

Molluscum contagiosum: Having large or many mollusca (bumps) can be a sign of an HIV infection.

Molluscum contagiosum: Who gets and causes

Who gets molluscum contagiosum?

This skin disease is most often seen in children. People who live in a tropical climate also are more likely to get molluscum. The virus thrives in a warm, humid place. Having atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, also increases the risk of getting molluscum contagiosum.

When a person has a weak immune system due to a medical condition such as AIDS or treatment for cancer, the person can get a serious case of molluscum contagiosum.

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

A virus causes molluscum. There are 2 ways to get this virus:

  1. Touch something infected with the virus. You can get molluscum by using an infected towel. You can get it from touching infected clothing or toys. Wrestlers and gymnasts get it from touching infected mats.
  2. Have direct skin-to-skin contact. Children often get molluscum because they have lots of direct skin-to-skin contact with others. People who participate in contact sports such as wrestling get molluscum from the direct skin-to-skin contact. Teens and adults often get the virus through sexual contact.

Once infected with the virus, a person can spread the virus to other parts the body. Scratching or picking at bumps on the skin and then touching skin that does not have bumps can spread the virus and cause new bumps. Your dermatologist may call this self-re-infection.

Molluscum contagiosum: Diagnosis and treatment

How do dermatologists diagnose molluscum contagiosum?

A dermatologist can often diagnose molluscum contagiosum by looking at your skin. Sometimes molluscum looks like another skin condition. The bumps can look like warts, chickenpox, and even skin cancer. If this happens, your dermatologist will scrape off a bit of infected skin, so it can be examined under a microscope.

How do dermatologists treat molluscum contagiosum?

When a child gets this skin condition, researchers have found that the skin often clears on its own. Clearing takes about 12 to 18 months. In many cases, children are not treated because treatment can have unwanted side effects for a child.

While molluscum can clear on its own, treatment has benefits. Treatment helps to prevent the virus that causes molluscum from:

For each patient, a dermatologist considers whether treatment is appropriate. If treatment is recommended, your treatment plan may include one or more of the following:

Procedures: Your dermatologist can perform these during an office visit:

When a patient has many bumps or large bumps, a dermatologist may need to repeat a procedure every 3 to 6 weeks until the bumps disappear. These procedures cause some discomfort.

Medicines you apply at home: Medicines that your dermatologist may prescribe for you to use at home include:

While treating molluscum, it is normal for new bumps to appear as others fade.


If a person with a healthy immune system opts not to treat molluscum, the bumps will eventually go away on their own without leaving a scar. Until the bumps go away, the person is contagious.

When you choose to treat molluscum, you may get new bumps for as long as 6 months after you start treatment. Most people, however, have complete clearing in 2 to 4 months. It's important to remember that until the bumps clear, the infected person can give molluscum to others.

If a person has AIDS or another disease that weakens the immune system, the bumps will not go away without treatment — and the bumps can be a challenge to treat. Dermatologists often combine treatments to offer these patients some clearing. Complete clearing may not be possible.


Rush J and Dinulos JG. “Childhood skin and soft tissue infections: new discoveries and guidelines regarding the management of bacterial soft tissue infections, molluscum contagiosum, and warts.”Curr Opin Pediatr. 2016; 28(2):250-7.

Dermatologists offer the following tips to their patients who have molluscum contagiousum — or think that they may have this skin condition:

If you think you have molluscum contagiosum, make an appointment to see a dermatologist. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes what looks like molluscum contagiosum can be warts or even skin cancer.

Treatment for molluscum contagiosum helps to prevent this disease from spreading.

Take action so that you do not spread the disease. It is possible to spread this disease to other parts of your body and to other people. When bumps are visible, you can spread molluscum contagiosum. You can prevent spreading this disease by:

© 2019 American Academy of Dermatology. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication strictly prohibited without prior written permission. Use of these materials is subject to the legal notice and terms of use located at

You Might Also Enjoy...

What is Mohs surgery?

Used to treat skin cancer, this surgery has a unique benefit. During surgery, the surgeon can see where the cancer stops. This isn’t possible with other types of treatment for skin cancer.

Should I get genetic testing for melanoma?

If you’re worried about getting melanoma, the most-serious skin cancer, you may be wondering whether you should have genetic testing. After all, genetic testing is now used find a person’s risk for many diseases.

Melanoma strikes men harder

Researchers have found yet another way that men and women differ. Melanoma, the most-serious skin cancer, affects the sexes differently.

Your best defense vs. another melanoma

If you’ve been treated for melanoma, you may never get another melanoma. Many people don’t. But it’s important to know that you have a greater risk of getting another one. Anyone who has had melanoma has this risk.

Skin Cancer Prevention

Follow these tips to protect your skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure and reduce your risk of skin cancer ...