Molluscum is a common viral skin condition that affects people of all ages but mostly children aged one to 14, especially those under 10.

These viral spots are distinctive in appearance, having a small crater-like dip in the centre. They appear suddenly in a small localised crop, usually on the arms, armpits, back, tummy or legs.

They can persist for months, or even years.

In some instances, they can become troublesome, especially when accompanied by eczema when the spots can be inflamed, itchy and sometimes infected.

In the UK, around 1% of children get molluscum. A lot is still unknown about the condition, meaning that when a doctor diagnoses molluscum there is little information he or she can share with parents, such as how long the spots will last, or whether siblings will develop them, and whether certain activities will help or hinder recovery. 

Our research (published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases) recruited over 300 UK children with molluscum contagiosum and followed them for until all spots had cleared. A summary of our key findings from this study (and others) are:

  • The most common age for a clinical diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum is 1 to 4 and 5 to 9 years. There is no difference between males or females.
  • The average time to resolution of all spots was 13 months, however for 80% of children spots remained at 18 months, and 13% at 24 months.
  • It was common for transmission between family members, 50% of children reported a second child in the household also having molluscum contagiosum.
  • For the majority of children the condition had a very small impact on their daily quality of life. However, for 1 in 10 children the condition had a severe effect on quality of life.
  • The most common location of molluscum contagiosum spots was legs, torso and arms. Spots were also reported in other areas of the body.
  • A previous diagnosis of Eczema by a doctor is associated with a small increased risk of a future diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum.
  • The number of patients diagnosed with molluscum contagiosum has declined by 50% from 2004 to 2013. This highlights that the condition can be successfully managed at home by parents.

For parents trying to work out if their child has molluscum, Cardiff University and dermatologists at University Hospital of Wales have developed a Molluscum Contagiosum Diagnostic Tool for Parents (MCDTP). It uses the most effective images and text to support parents in making a diagnosis of Molluscum. You can use the tool by clicking 'diagnosis'.

Cardiff University, 
School of Medicine, 
College of Biomedical & Life Sciences,
Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park, 
Cardiff CF14 4YS
UK.

Molluscum contagiosum need to know: 

 The spots usually clear up on their own, without any treatment.

• The virus that causes molluscum is, as the name suggests, highly contagious. But most people are resistant to the virus and unlikely to develop spots.

• Molluscum is spread by skin-to-skin contact, and contaminated fabrics, such as towels.

• If your child has molluscum, you don't need to keep them away from nursery or school, or stop them doing activities such as swimming, but you should discourage them from sharing their towels and clothes.

• Treatment is only usually recommended for older children/adults if the spots are unsightly and affecting quality of life.

• Squeezing the spots can be painful, cause bleeding, risk spreading infection and may cause scarring.