If your little one has suddenly developed a rash with painless, small, round bumps with little debris in the middle, the molluscum poxvirus may be the culprit.

As a viral infection, molluscum contagiosum, a viral infection is easily transmitted. While it doesn’t cause permanent harm, the infection can last for a while.

Keep reading to learn how to tell if you or a loved one might have this condition, and what you can do to help prevent it from being transmitted to others.

What is molluscum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral infection, especially in children. It causes benign (noncancerous) bumps on the skin.

These bumps or skin lesions are highly contagious and may occur almost anywhere on the body.

How is molluscum transmitted?

Molluscum contagiosum is easily transferred. The virus may be transmitted via direct contact with others (skin-to-skin contact) or by touching contaminated objects or surfaces.

For these reasons, the virus tends to be most prominent in environments with a lot of people, including:

It’s also possible to contract the virus at the gym or workplace.

Who’s at risk?

The following groups are the most susceptible to contracting and transmitting molluscum contagiosum:

  • Young children. This is the most common virus affecting children ages 1 to 10, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, contracting molluscum isn’t limited to children.
  • Teachers and daycare workers. People who come in contact with young children on a regular basis may have an increased risk of transmitting this virus. Contaminated toys, desks, and other school objects can also become breeding grounds for the virus.
  • Swimmers. It’s possible to transmit molluscum contagiosum in swimming pools, as well as shower facilities at public pools.
  • Gymgoers and athletes. Contact with gym/sports equipment during sporting events and in locker rooms can make the gym another breeding ground for molluscum contagiosum.

Other risk factors for molluscum contagiosum include:

  • Warmth and humidity. This particular virus thrives in warm and humid climates, so you may see more breakouts in your area depending on the climate you live in.
  • Crowded environments. Since molluscum contagiosum is transmitted by human contact, it’s inevitable that the more crowded your environment, the more at risk you are of contracting the virus if someone else has it.
  • Atopic dermatitis. Also known as eczema, this inflammatory skin condition increases your risk of contracting molluscum contagiosum. This is especially the case if you have broken skin in your eczema rashes.
  • Weakened immune system. If you have an underlying health condition, such as HIV, you may be at an increased risk of contracting the virus. You may also experience larger than average molluscum lesions.

How to avoid getting and transmitting molluscum

One way to prevent molluscum contagiosum from being transmitted is by taking extra precautions if you knowingly have the virus.

Covering your lesions when possible can help to prevent transmitting the virus to other people and to other parts of your body.

Tips to avoid transmitting molluscum

Here are some best practices prevention tips:

  • Cover your lesions with bandages and make sure these are waterproof if you’re swimming.
  • Avoid sharing towels.
  • Wipe down gym equipment, weights, and benches after each use.
  • Avoid sharing swimming gear and equipment.
  • Avoid contact sports unless you can cover your lesions.

Tips to avoid getting molluscum

If you don’t have molluscum contagiosum, here are ways you can help decrease your risk of contracting it:

  • Frequently disinfect hard surfaces, including toys, tables, and door handles.
  • Avoid sharing towels, sheets, and clothing.
  • Wipe down gym equipment before use.
  • Avoid public pools, locker rooms, and other spaces with warm and humid conditions.

Washing your hands frequently can also help, especially if you’re in a high-risk environment for this virus.

You can be reinfected

If you’ve contracted and have recovered from molluscum in the past, it’s important to follow these best practices to prevent future infections. Unlike other viral infections, it’s possible to get molluscum contagiosum again.

Seeing new molluscum lesions means that you’ve come in contact with someone (or something) that has the virus, and you’ll need to start the recovery process over.

What are the symptoms of molluscum?

The only way to visibly detect the molluscum contagiosum virus is through a person’s skin symptoms.

This skin condition is characterized by bumps that:

  • are small and raised
  • are firm to the touch
  • range from white, pink, or flesh-colored
  • may develop an accompanying rash that looks eczema-like
  • have a pearl-looking appearance
  • have small pits or “dimples” in their centers with cheesy-like debris

Sometimes these lesions may also become:

  • red
  • swollen or inflamed
  • itchy

Molluscum bumps (Mollusca) can range in size from 2 to 5 millimeters each, which is roughly the size of a pen tip or a pencil eraser, respectively.

You can develop these small bumps anywhere on your body, but they may be more common on your:

  • face
  • neck
  • abdomen
  • genital area
  • arms
  • legs

Mollusca rarely develop on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet.

How is molluscum treated?

It’s important to see a healthcare provider for any new bumps or rashes that develop on the skin so that they can properly diagnose your condition.

Molluscum contagiosum typically resolves on its own within 6 to 12 months.

A 2017 study found that the bumps cleared on their own in less than 6 months in 40 percent of cases. In more severe cases, the bumps can last up to 4 years.

Most people don’t require treatment.

However, you might consider professional removal if molluscum is:

  • widespread
  • not resolving in a timely fashion
  • irritating
  • in an uncomfortable spot such as the groin

Treatment options, depending on the region affected, may include:

  • Cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is a freezing process done using liquid nitrogen.
  • Podophyllotoxin cream. Podophyllotoxin cream is used off-label and isn’t recommended for pregnant women or children.
  • Oral cimetidine. Oral cimetidine is used off-label to treat children, but it’s not always reliably successful.
  • Cantharidin. Cantharidin is used off-label.
  • Curettage. Curettage is a process used to remove tissue.

Molluscum doesn’t usually cause scarring unless the bumps are picked or scratched at.

Key takeaways

Molluscum contagiosum is highly contagious. It’s easy for the virus to be transmitted between people and shared objects.

You can decrease your risk of contracting to transmit the condition with good hygiene practices.

If you think you have molluscum, see your healthcare provider right away for a proper diagnosis. They may also recommend other measures to help make sure the virus isn’t transmitted further.