One of the most common rashes I see in children is called molluscum contagiosum. It looks like a group of small white or pink raised lesions that usually present in a cluster, although they can be on their own. They are quite small, usually no bigger than 5 mm, and they can be anywhere on the body. They are caused by a virus — the molluscum contagiosum virus — which is a pox virus.
What you need to know about molluscum
The lesions of molluscum can spread directly from person to person. It is not spread by sneezing, like the common flu, but through direct physical contact or by an inanimate object that has touched the lesions, like a towel, clothing, a wet sponge or toys, that have come into direct contact and gets contaminated with the virus, can then spread the virus to someone else. Kids who scratch their own lesions and then touch another area of their body can spread it to that area as well.
The good news is, that even if not treated, eventually the molluscum will go away on their own and not scar. The bad news is that while it usually happens within a year, it can take as long as 4 years according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control).
Often we will treat based on the number of lesions or where they are and, as always, treatment should be done through a qualified healthcare practitioner. The options for treatment include actually physically removing the lesions through freezing with liquid nitrogen. Often, in young children, we will use a host of different topical therapies first, but each lesion must be treated individually. Again, the kind of topical therapy is chosen by the healthcare practitioner and are often administered by the practitioner in an ongoing series of treatments.
How to prevent getting it in the first place
The best way from keeping the molluscum from spreading is through good cleaning habits. After the virus is gone, you cannot spread the virus. Remember to wash your children’s hands and make sure that your child does not pick at the lesions, so in some cases, you might want to keep them covered when there is a chance of exposure. Be sure not to share towels, sports equipment and clothes that come into contact with the lesions.
This time of year, I often get asked if the lesions can be spread in a pool. The CDC points out that it has not been proven how the virus spreads in water or if the virus can spread in water and it is more likely that sharing toys or towels is the route of spread. However, covering the lesions with a water tight bandage, in addition to not sharing exposed items, is recommended. In addition, we do not suggest that you keep a child with molluscum home from school or daycare.
As always, check with your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.
Dr. Marla Shapiro is a family doctor and a specialist in preventive medicine and community health.