Molluscum contagiosum

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The skin is the body's main defence barrier against the invasion and growth of external infectious agents which we are exposed to daily. Having a skin type with this altered barrier function, as is the case with atopic dermatitis, or showing an immature immune status, as the case may be with babies and children, are factors that facilitate the entry and colonisation of infectious agents, as occurs with the Molluscum Contagiosum virus.

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection of viral origin which is a common reason for consultation in paediatric primary care and dermatology. Its causal agent is a virus in the poxvirus family: Molluscum contagiosum.

Although more common in children, molluscum contagiosum can also affect adults, particularly those with weakened immune systems.

How does molluscum contagiosum manifest?

The molluscum contagiosum incubation period ranges from 2 to 8 weeks. Its lesions are generally asymptomatic, with mild itching, and are highly variable in number, consisting of smooth dome-shaped papules that generally have a central depression, with a diameter of 1 to 5 mm.

Where are the injuries located?

Molluscum contagiosum lesions can be located anywhere on the body and are usually grouped in a specific area, but they can also be scattered around. In children, they are usually located on the face, chest and limbs.

The distribution of injuries is influenced by certain factors, such as the type of infection, the clothes worn and the weather. In temperate areas, the neck, chest and the area around the armpits are more frequently affected. In contrast, in tropical climates the lesions are usually located on the limbs and the face.

What complications does molluscum contagiosum produce?

The lesions can produce inflammation and rashes, particularly when they are located in the flexures (folds) and the child suffers from atopic dermatitis.

Although it may be self-limited and remain unchanged for months or years, it is a highly contagious disease (through swimming pools, shared objects – sponges, towels, etc. -, and direct skin-to-skin contact). Children under 5 years of age are most commonly affected and outbreaks can occur at school.

It is very important to have good hygiene (keep the affected areas clean and dry), and to avoid scratching the lesions to prevent spreading and possible secondary bacterial and fungal superinfections, in addition to encouraging the damaged skin to heal.

Tips to treat the appearance of molluscum contagiosum

Following these tips can be useful to reduce and treat the number of molluscs in children:

  • Avoid scratching. As it is a highly contagious skin infection, it is easily transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. Therefore, children should be stopped from touching, scratching or rubbing the lesions. If they do, new rashes may appear or the virus may be spread to other parts of the body.
  • Be careful with infected objects. Molluscum contagiosum can also be spread through towels, clothing, or contaminated objects. The use of floats or other infected toys in swimming pools are the reason for contagion, and not the contact with water as one tends to believe.
  • Do not touch the papules. Avoid bursting or removing lesions with hands or other objects, as this could spread the infection.
  • See a dermatologist or paediatrician. In most cases, molluscum contagiosum is a mild infection that does not pose a health risk and will clear up on its own within a few months. It is necessary to go to the dermatologist or paediatrician to prescribe the most appropriate treatment in each case.
  • Follow the treatment carefully. If there are many lesions, it is not necessary to remove them all at once. The treatment for molluscum contagiosum can be spread over time, adapting to the needs of each case.

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