Molluscum Contagiosum Overview

A Poorly Understood STI

Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious skin disease caused by a type of poxvirus. Around the world, it most often affects young children and adults who have weakened immune systems. Molluscum contagiosum is not primarily thought of as an STI. However, as it is transmitted by direct skin contact, it can be transmitted during sexual contact.

Couple holding hands
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Infection with the molluscum contagiosum virus causes raised fluid-filled bumps on the skin. These bumps range from the size of a pinhead to the size of a pencil eraser. They usually have a small dimple or pit in the middle. Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those living with HIV/AIDS, may get larger bumps. Those bumps may grow up to the size of a dime, or they may have groups of atypical bumps.

In most people, the bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum are painless. However, the bumps can become itchy, irritated, swollen, or sore. If the bumps become uncomfortable, it is important to avoid scratching them. Scratching can cause the virus to spread. Scratching can also leave your skin susceptible to secondary infections with other bacteria.

Molluscum contagiosum infections are generally easy to handle for people with healthy immune systems. They can be substantially more problematic in people with uncontrolled HIV. In rare cases, disseminated infections can develop. Disseminated molluscum can be permanently disfiguring. However, most people only have isolated skin infections.


Any and all strange bumps on the skin should be examined by a healthcare provider. That is particularly true if they appear in the genital area. Your healthcare provider should be able to diagnose a molluscum infection based on a physical examination. Sometimes a biopsy of the bumps is necessary. This generally involves them being removed using a small scalpel.

As the bumps caused by molluscum are painless, you may not notice an infection. Visual examination of the genital area is the primary way that these infections are detected. Molluscum contagiosum would not be detected through urine or blood tests.


Molluscum contagiosum should only be treated by a healthcare professional. Treatments advocated on the Internet may actually cause more harm than good. At your healthcare provider's office, the bumps can be frozen off, removed with lasers, treated with creams, or drained using special techniques. In most cases, the molluscum bumps will heal on their own in six to 12 months if left untreated.

Once the molluscum bumps are gone, the infection is considered to be cured. Molluscum contagiosum does not have a dormant phase like herpes or HPV.

How Molluscum Contagiosum Is Spread

Molluscum contagiosum is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. It can also be spread by contact with objects, such as clothing or towels, that have been contaminated by the virus. If you have acquired the virus, you should cover all bumps on the skin with waterproof bandages. This will reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others. It is also a good idea to avoid sharing clothing, towels, and toys with infected individuals. Finally, wash your hands after touching any of your own molluscum contagiosum bumps. That can help you avoid transmitting the virus to other areas of your skin.

As molluscum contagiosum is spread from skin to skin, safer sex cannot entirely prevent transmission. However, reliably practicing safer sex should reduce some transmission of the virus. In addition, there is some evidence that having pubic hair may reduce the risk of molluscum transmission. At least two studies have found evidence of more infections in people who shave or wax their pubic hair.

The link between pubic hair removal and skin STIs, such as molluscum, may or may not be related to the biology of the STIs. It could also be because people who groom their pubic hair also tend to be having more sex. That stated, if there is a real association between pubic hair removal and molluscum risk, it is probably due to a combination of factors. There is a greater chance of skin to skin contact without the padding from pubic hair. There is also a chance that broken skin could be more susceptible to infection. Finally, lesions could spread during the hair removal process.

Molluscum Contagiosum in Children

Not all molluscum contagiosum infections are transmitted sexually. Indeed, the majority of cases seen in children are spread through casual contact. Therefore, parents should not be concerned that a diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum in their children has to do with sexual activity. It is a very common viral skin infection seen in young people.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Azevedo T, Catarino A, Ferreira L, Borges F, Mansinho K. Disseminated molluscum contagiosum lesions in an HIV patient. Cleve Clin J Med. 2017;84(3):186-187. doi:10.3949/ccjm.84a.16070

  3. Veraldi S, Nazzaro G, Ramoni S. Pubic hair removal and molluscum contagiosum. Int J STD AIDS. 2016;27(8):699-700. doi:10.1177/0956462415599491

  4. Rayala BZ, Morrell DS. Common skin cnditions in children: skin infections. FP Essent.