Molluscum Contagiosum

What Is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum …now that is one unusual word.

Same thing with contagiosum.

Put them together and they don’t exactly trip off the tongue, do they?

Molluscum contagiosum ( mo-LUS-kum-kun-tay-jee-OH-sum) sounds strange and maybe downright terrifying…but you are now struggling to find out all you can about this medical condition if you, your child or a loved one has been diagnosed, or you have suspicions about what those strange body bumps really are and you are doing your homework.

It can come as a shock to know that this strange sounding disease is extremely common, although the chances are you have never heard of it until now.

Many families and individuals have experienced, or will experience, living with molluscum contagiosum so the first thing to know is that you are not alone.

The Quick Facts sections will give you an immediate overview of molluscum contagiosum and the Grab a Coffee sections will give you some of the science.

The very nature of of this infection may not make for easy reading, but could be very useful to help you get a real handle on dealing with molluscum contagiosum.

Quick Facts

Molluscum Contagiosum

  • is a common, viral infection of human skin, affecting millions worldwide.
  • usually affects children.
  • may affect teenagers and adults as an STD when transferred through sexual contact.
  • usually lasts for 12-18 months or longer.
  • is regarded as benign and rarely serious.

what is molluscum contagiosumGrab A Cuppa

Some of the science!

How Many People Get Molluscum Contagiosum?

Some research suggests that molluscum contagiosum has been on the rise since 1966 and it is currently estimated that around 2 million children in the US alone are diagnosed with the infection each year. Recent studies suggest the rates of the infection in young children are continuing to rise.

One recent Australian study came to the conclusion that very mild or sub-clinical cases of molluscum infections in the general population may be quite more common than previously thought.

And, in the UK, hundreds of thousands of cases are reported each year.

However, there are no precise figures for the numbers of children, teenagers or adults suffering with this infection as molluscum contagiosum is not a notifiable disease like measles.

The fact that the infections are regarded as rarely serious and routinely go away without treatment, although this can take anywhere up to four years, means that there is very little monitoring of molluscum contagiosum, and even less consideration given to the impact of this infection on people’s lives.

So, What Causes It?

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a virus, which is a member of the pox family of viruses (family poxviridae), and known as molluscpoxvirus, or MCV.

The virus affects only the outer layer of skin and does not circulate throughout the body in healthy people.

The pox family virus is also responsible for the human smallpox virus, the cowpox virus, shingles and chicken pox.

There are a number of other skin conditions that may appear similar to molluscum contagiosum such as chickenpox, lichen planus, and warts.

It is, therefore, very important that any skin conditions are formally diagnosed by your doctor.

what is molluscum contagiosumIf you have, or your child has unidentified bumps on the skin, especially those that appear quickly, whether they occur singly or in clusters, and may or may not have a visible white core, seek medical attention promptly.

There is always a chance that you might mistake potentially serious conditions for the relatively harmless molluscum contagiosum.

A doctor will be able to confirm which disease is present and advise on how to deal with it.

Although the Molluscum Contagiosum Virus (MCV) causes a chronic, viral infection of human skin it does occasionally, and in rare cases, infect the mucus membrane. Just as the skin lines and protects the outside of the body, the mucus membranes line and protect body organs and the parts inside the body which come in contact with the outside, for example, the respiratory, digestive and urogenital tracts such as the mouth, nose, lungs, genital area and anus.

MCV may commonly be referred to as “water warts”, “pearly warts”  or “molluscum warts” although it is not warts.

The papules, bumps or lesions may be referred to as molluscum bodies, mollusca or, the more technical, condyloma subcutaneum.

Molluscum Contagiosum affects only humans and does not affect animals.

There are four members of  the MCV group, MCV-1 to -4. MCV-1 is the most prevalent.

In a study of 147 patients, MCV1 presented in over 96% of cases while MCV2 presented in the rest.

In those persons with HIV, the MCV2 causes over 60% of the infections.

MCV3 and MCV4 are rare.

There does not appear to be any relationship between the particular MCV type and the structure of the lesions or the distribution of the lesions over the body.

The consensus is that approximately 90% of cases involves MCV1.

Molluscum Contagiosum is not associated with Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV) which cause genital warts.

Molluscum is benign but it may trigger substantial and cosmetically bothersome lesions, particularly in people with compromised immune systems which may occur in individuals with HIV, those who are undergoing cancer treatment, taking medication for organ transplantation or other auto-immune suppressed individuals.

How Long Does It Last?

A molluscum contagiosum infection commonly lasts for 12-18 months.

Each lesion, or bump, has an approximate individual life span of 6-12 weeks until  a crust develops on the bump and it goes away. But, when the disease is active, new bumps or lesions may appear as the older bumps die off.

Any skin or virus condition can be unpredictable and some spots can remain for much longer. Unfortunately for the sufferer, pox viruses are notorious for their ability to evade the sufferer’s immune system, and this may help explain why a molluscum contagiosum infection can persist for so long, with some cases lasting approximately four to five years.

A Little Bit More

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection. Treating viruses is not easy and treating an established infection is notoriously difficult.

As it is caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics are of no help.

There is currently no available vaccine for the molluscum contagiosum virus and after the eradication of smallpox which was officially declated in 1979, molluscum contagiosum is the only remaining pox virus that causes disease in humans.

Just as the human race has evolved to make their life cycle as efficient as possible, viruses have evolved alongside with the same goal.

Pox viruses are highly versatile and can easily adapt to very specific host environments. So, while molluscum is usually benign, it can be difficult to treat.

The molluscum contagiosum virus is specific about where it will infect. Remember, it only infects human skin cells.

There have been attempts to cultivate the molluscum virus in conventional tissue cultures or eggs, but these attempts have remained unsuccessful up until now although there has been some success in in cultivating the virus on human foreskin attached to athymic mice.

what is molluscum contagiosumAccording to the University of Washington School of Medicine, “Difficulty in isolating the Molluscum Contagiosum Virus has hampered a more precise understanding of the biology of the virus”.

A virus can only function by invading and hijacking a host cell, using the host cell machinery to metabolise, and most importantly, reproduce.

Viruses are sophisticated pathogens which evade the immune system. This evasion is critical for the molluscum contagiosum virus to reproduce.

The molluscum contagiosum virus has unique genes that interfere with the protein responsible for the defence mechanisms in the human body.

In other words, the molluscum virus manages to hide itself from the body’s immune system.

This interference inhibits the body’s natural inflammatory and immune response to the infection.

The body is prevented from recognising a virus is present, and so does nothing to fight it until the body, eventually, realises a virus is present and starts to produce antibodies to fight it off.

The ability of viruses like molluscum contagiosum to hide from the immune response is the main reason why it may take from several months to years for the body to finally recognise the presence of the virus and for the infection to resolve.

More Reading : Molluscum Contagiosum : Who Gets It?