Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a viral infection that affects the skin. Around 9 out of 10 cases happen in children although it can occur at any age.

MC is generally a harmless condition that normally gets better in a few months without any specific treatment.

However, it's common for the condition to spread around the body, so it can take up to 18 months or more for the condition to clear completely.

Symptoms of molluscum contagiosum (MC)

Usually, the only symptom of MC is a number of small, firm, raised papules (spots) on the skin with a characteristic small dimple in the middle. The spots are not painful, but can be itchy.

The spots may develop in small clusters and can be spread across different parts of the body. They're most often found in the armpit, behind the knees or on the groin.

MC can affect a person on more than 1 occasion, but this is uncommon.

Image of MC spots, which are usually firm and dome-shaped, with a small dimple in the middle. They're usually less than 5mm (0.5cm) across, but can sometimes be bigger

When to seek medical advice

See a GP if you notice the spots associated with MC. They're usually easy to recognise, so they should be able to diagnose the condition without the need for further tests.

If the GP thinks the infection may be caused by something other than MC, they may want to:

They may refer you to a specialist in hospital if you have:

Causes of molluscum contagiosum (MC)

MC is caused by a virus known as the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV).

This virus can be spread through:

If you become infected by the virus and spots appear on your skin, the virus can also spread to other areas.

It's not known exactly how long someone with MC is contagious for, but it's thought the contagious period may last up until the last spot has disappeared.

Treating molluscum contagiosum (MC)

Routine treatment for MC, particularly in children, is generally not recommended because:

Treatment is usually only recommended for older children and adults when the spots are particularly unsightly and affect quality of life, or for people with weakened immune systems.

In such cases, treatments that may be offered include:

Preventing the spread of molluscum contagiosum (MC)

Although MC is infectious, the chance of passing it on to others during normal activities is small.

It's not necessary for you to stay away from work or your child to stay away from school or nursery, or to stop doing activities such as swimming if you have MC.

However, you should take some steps to avoid spreading the virus to other people. You should:

Using a condom while having sex can reduce the risk of passing on MC during sexual contact.

Complications of molluscum contagiosum (MC)

MC rarely causes any other problems but complications can occasionally occur. These include:

See a GP if you suspect a bacterial infection or experience any eye problems such as eye pain or redness. Signs of a bacterial infection can include redness, swelling and pain in the skin and underlying tissue.

Page last reviewed: 3 September 2020
Next review due: 3 September 2023