What is molluscum contagiosum and how is it treated?

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Jojo Ming (Image: Wikipédia)

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection characterized by the development of small, raised bumps or lesions on the skin. The condition is caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV), a member of the poxvirus family. This highly contagious infection primarily affects children, but it can also occur in adults, particularly those with weakened immune systems.

Causes: Molluscum contagiosum is primarily transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. The virus can also spread through contact with contaminated objects, such as towels, toys, or clothing. In addition, the infection can be transmitted through sexual contact in adults, as it is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in certain cases. Poor hygiene and compromised immune function can increase the risk of developing molluscum contagiosum.

Symptoms: The hallmark of molluscum contagiosum is the appearance of small, flesh-colored or pearly bumps on the skin. These lesions are usually painless but may become itchy or irritated over time. The bumps often have a central indentation or dimple, giving them a characteristic appearance. They can occur individually or in clusters and may be present anywhere on the body, including the face, neck, arms, and genital area.

Diagnosis: Diagnosing molluscum contagiosum is typically based on the clinical appearance of the lesions. A healthcare provider can identify the characteristic bumps during a physical examination. In some cases, a biopsy or scraping of the lesion may be performed to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other skin conditions.

Treatment Options: While molluscum contagiosum is generally a self-limiting condition that resolves on its own over time, treatment may be sought to alleviate symptoms, prevent spread, and reduce the risk of complications. Various treatment options are available, and the choice of treatment depends on factors such as the patient’s age, overall health, and the location and number of lesions.

  1. Topical Therapies:
    • Topical Retinoids: Retinoid creams, such as tretinoin, may be applied to the lesions to promote their resolution.
    • Cantharidin: A substance derived from blister beetles, cantharidin is applied topically to induce blistering, which helps remove the lesions.
    • Imiquimod Cream: This immune response modifier can stimulate the body’s immune system to target and eliminate the virus.
  2. Physical Removal:
    • Cryotherapy: The lesions are frozen using liquid nitrogen, causing them to blister and eventually fall off.
    • Curettage: The bumps are scraped off using a sharp instrument, providing immediate removal.
  3. Oral or Injectable Medications:
    • Cimetidine: This oral medication, primarily used for stomach acid reduction, has been explored as a treatment option for molluscum contagiosum due to its immunomodulatory effects.
    • Interferon: In severe cases or in individuals with compromised immune systems, injectable interferon may be considered to boost the immune response.
  4. Self-care and Prevention:
    • Avoiding Scratching: Scratching the lesions can contribute to the spread of the virus. It is essential to discourage scratching to prevent further infection.
    • Good Hygiene Practices: Regular handwashing and maintaining good personal hygiene can reduce the risk of transmission.

Prognosis: In most cases, molluscum contagiosum is a benign and self-limiting condition. The lesions typically resolve within six months to a few years, but the duration can vary among individuals. The virus does not typically leave lasting scars, although some temporary discoloration may occur after lesion resolution.