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Molluscum Contagiosum

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that causes smooth, waxy bumps.

What is going on in the body?

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a poxvirus. It is characterized by a rash of small, flesh-colored bumps with a small depression in the center. A person with a immunodeficiency disorder will have a more severe form of molluscum contagiosum, with many skin lesions.

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

The poxvirus that causes molluscum contagiosum is spread through close physical contact, including sexual intercourse. In addition, a person can spread the rash over his or her own body by scratching.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?

At first, the molluscum contagiosum skin lesions are firm, solid, and flesh colored. Eventually they become softened, whitish, or pearly gray. There is usually a dimple in the center of the lesion. They may drain a white, cheesy or waxy material. There is no pain associated with this condition. The lesions may appear on the face, trunk, arms, legs, genitals, and abdomen.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is the infection diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can diagnose molluscum contagiosum based on the physical appearance of the lesions. It can be confirmed by a skin biopsy.

Prevention & Expectations

What can be done to prevent the infection?

The best way to prevent molluscum contagiosum is to avoid close contact with an infected person.

What are the long-term effects of the infection?

If left untreated, molluscum contagiosum can lead to bacterial skin infections. A person who has AIDS tends to develop extensive lesions over the face and neck, as well as the genital area. Molluscum contagiosum is difficult to get rid of in a person with AIDS because his or her immune system is compromised.

What are the risks to others?

The poxvirus that causes molluscum contagiosum is contagious. It is spread by direct skin contact, and is often sexually transmitted.

Treatment & Monitoring

What are the treatments for the infection?

The skin lesions of molluscum contagiosum usually resolve on their own over time, but treatment is justified to prevent spread of the virus and rash. Molluscum contagiosum is treated by removing the core of the bump. This can be done by mechanical removal, liquid nitrogen, or compounds used for wart removal, such as salicylic acid and lactic acid.

A person with an immunodeficiency disorder may be given certain antiviral medications to help fight the infection.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Local removal of the core of skin lesions can cause irritation and blistering of the skin. Scarring does not occur unless removal is complicated by a bacterial infection.

What happens after treatment for the infection?

Sometimes new lesions of molluscum contagiosum can occur after treatment, since the incubation period can last as long as 6 months.

How is the infection monitored?

A person with molluscum contagiosum should report any new symptoms to his or her healthcare provider.

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