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Skin deep: The basics about molluscum contagiosum

Though these skin growths usually clear up on their own, treatment can help keep them from spreading to other people.

A scratchy throat, a nagging cough and a queasy stomach—these are the types of symptoms many people think of when a virus is to blame.

But viruses can cause skin problems too.

Case in point: molluscum contagiosum (MC), a virus that enters the body through microscopic breaks in the skin.

The virus causes small, white, pink, or flesh-colored growths to develop on the skin. The growths may be shiny, have a small indentation in the center, and, over time, become red or inflamed.

In children, MC growths typically appear on the face, trunk, legs and arms. In adults, they tend to develop on the thighs, buttocks, groin and lower abdomen. People with immune system diseases, such as AIDS, may develop numerous large growths, especially on the face, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Although MC growths can be tender or itchy, they usually don’t cause much discomfort, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). They can, however, remain on the skin for several years.

Easily spread, often treated

The MC virus is easily spread through skin contact. It most often occurs among groups of people who have frequent skin-to-skin contact, such as young children (especially siblings).

The virus can also be spread in swimming pools, by sharing a bath with an infected person, or by touching towels or clothing that come in contact with MC growths.

Among adults, sexual contact is the most common form of MC transmission, according to the ASHA.

MC growths often clear up by themselves. The growths may be especially persistent in people with weakened immune systems.

Proper treatment for MC growths can help prevent the disease from spreading to other parts of the body and to other people.

The growths can be surgically removed, frozen with liquid nitrogen, or treated with laser therapy, chemicals or topical medications.

The disease may be easier to control if treatment is started when there are just a few growths, according to the AAD.

Reviewed 10/24/2022

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