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Molluscum contagiosum: Who gets and causes

Common in kids

The people most likely to get molluscum contagiosum are healthy children who are 1 to 10 years old.

young children playing tug of war

What causes molluscum contagiosum?

A virus called molluscum contagiosum causes this skin infection.

How do people get the virus?

People catch molluscum contagiosum when they get the virus on their skin. This can happen by:

  • Having skin-to-skin contact with someone who has molluscum.

  • Touching an object that someone who has molluscum touched.

  • Sharing a personal item, such as clothing or a towel, with someone who has molluscum.

Who has the highest risk of getting molluscum contagiosum?

While anyone can get molluscum contagiosum, some people are more likely to catch it. Medical records indicate that the following individuals are most susceptible:

  • Children who are 1 to 10 years old, especially if they have eczema

  • Athletes who have skin-to-skin contact or share equipment

  • People who are sexually active

  • Anyone who has trouble fighting off infections

  • Those who live in a warm, humid area and have close contact with others

It’s believed that children who are 1 to 10 years old are most likely to get this skin infection because they have the most skin-to-skin contact. They seem especially vulnerable if they have eczema. The extremely dry, cracked skin of eczema may make it easier for the virus to infect the skin.

Teens and adults can also get molluscum contagiosum. Usually, they get it during sexual contact. When this happens, molluscum is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). When someone gets molluscum through sexual contact, bumps usually develop on (and around) the genitals. Sometimes, bumps also develop inside the mouth.

Some need treatment

Anyone who has trouble fighting off infections usually needs treatment because the body cannot get rid of the virus on its own.

doctor applying medicine to man's forehead

Anyone who has trouble fighting off an infection also has a higher risk. People who have a weakened immune system may get larger bumps on their skin. They may need treatment to get rid of the bumps.

You may have trouble fighting off infections if you are

  • Getting treated for cancer

  • Living with a transplanted organ

  • HIV-positive but not taking antiretroviral medication

  • Taking medication that weakens the immune system, such as methotrexate

Can you catch molluscum when someone sneezes or coughs?

No. The virus that causes molluscum contagiosum stays in the top layer of the skin.

Because it never gets inside the body, you cannot catch the virus when someone sneezes or coughs.

How does molluscum spread on your skin once you have it?

You can spread the virus from one part of your body to another by:

  • Touching, scratching, or picking at a molluscum bumps on your skin and then touching an area without molluscum

  • Shaving the bumps and using the same razor to shave an area without molluscum

  • Having electrolysis on skin with and without molluscum

When the virus spreads. you won’t see new bumps right away. The bumps usually appear 2 to 6 weeks later.

While the bumps will clear on their own if you have a healthy immune system, many people seek treatment to clear the bumps more quickly. Find out when dermatologist recommend treatment at: Molluscum contagiosum: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome.

Getty Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Molluscum contagiosum: Risk factors.” Page last reviewed May 2015. Page last accessed March 22, 2019.

Daveluy S. “Poster 3782: High-definition optical coherence tomography as a noninvasive technique in the diagnosis and management of molluscum contagiosum.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2016;74(issue 5, suppl. 1):AB163. No commercial support identified.

Issacs SN. “Molluscum contagiosum” UptoDate. Last accessed March 25, 2019.

van der Wouden JC, van der Sande R, et al. “Cochrane Review: Interventions for cutaneous molluscum contagiosum.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;5:CD004767.

Zancanaro PC, McGirt LY, et al. “Cutaneous manifestations of HIV in the era of highly active antiretroviral therapy: an institutional urban clinic experience.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;54(4):581-8.