Health conditions

Molluscum contagiosum

What is molluscum contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is a fairly common skin infection caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus.

It is generally harmless and will disappear on its own in healthy people, although this may take up to 2 years. In some people, such as with HIV/AIDS, it can spread all over body and last for a long time.

Is molluscum contagiosum a sexually transmitted infection?

Molluscum contagiosum is not always considered a sexually transmitted infection because you do not need to have had sex to become infected.

However if you get the infection, it’s a good idea for you and your most recent sexual partners to be tested for other sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

How do you get molluscum contagiosum?

The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact. In adults it is mainly – but not exclusively – spread by sexual contact.

Once you are infected with the molluscum contagiosum virus, it can be spread around your body through shaving and scratching.

Signs and symptoms

Molluscum contagiosum shows up as small, round, pearly lumps. They are often mistaken for warts.

The lumps usually show up 2 to 3 months after being a person is infected. However they can develop as early as 1 week after infection or take as long as 6 months to develop after infection.

If the virus is passed on through sex, the lumps tend to be found around the genital area.

How do I know I have molluscum contagiosum?

See your doctor if you think you may have the molluscum contagiosum virus.

Your doctor can look at the lumps to make a diagnosis. If they are unsure they may take a biopsy of the lump and its inner core and send this to a laboratory for testing.

If you have had unsafe sex or are in any doubt, it’s important to get a STI check-up, as the spots could be a sign of other STIs.

Treatment of molluscum contagiosum

In most cases, the lumps will go away by themselves. The infection can last up to 2 years, although each lump generally disappears after 2 to 3 months.

If you are worried or uncomfortable, or have another medical condition, your doctor may prescribe a cream or freeze the lumps.

How can molluscum contagiosum be prevented?

You can reduce the risks of getting molluscum contagiosum, and other STIs, by following this advice:

  • Always use a condom, water-based lubricant and a dental dam when you have sex. Any spots not covered by the condom or dental dam can infect you or your partner.
  • Limit your sex partners. The fewer people you have sex with, the less chance you have of having sex with someone who has molluscum contagiosum.
  • Have regular STI checks and encourage your sexual partner to have checks too.

Talking about STIs can be difficult, but the person you have sex with has a right to know if you have an STI. Discuss it when you are feeling relaxed and confident, not just before you have sex. Your partner will appreciate your honesty and that you don’t want to infect them. You have the right to know if they are infected too.

Where to get help

Remember

  • Molluscum contagiosum is a mild, harmless viral skin infection.
  • The virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact and mainly by sexual activity in adults.  
  • It appears on the skin surface as a small, raised, round, pearly lump.
  • If left untreated the virus will eventually go away.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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