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Molluscum is a viral infection caused by the virus molluscipoxvirus molluscum contagiosum (MMC). Molluscum remains localized in the skin and is not systemic like other viruses such as herpes simplex.
Molluscum typically begins as small papules which may become raised up to a pearly, flesh-colored nodule. The papule often has a dimple in the center, called umbilication. Scratching or any other irritation causes the virus and the papules to spread in a line or in groups called crops.
Molluscum contagiosum is a chronic infection and lesions may persist from a few months to a few years. These lesions may ultimately disappear without scarring.
This viral infection often infects children, usually on the face, neck, armpit, arms, and hands. It may also occur elsewhere on the body, except the palms and soles. Occasionally, it is seen on the genitals.
In adults, molluscum is generally seen on the genitals as a sexually-transmitte d disease. Early lesions on the genitalia may be mistaken for herpes or warts but, unlike herpes, these lesions are painless.
The virus can spread on a person from lesions to adjacent normal skin areas. Since it is contagious through direct contact, it may also spread by sexual contact.
Molluscum has not been treated like other sexually-transmitte d diseases because it produces no serious illness and is not of long-term public health significance. The growing population of immunocompromised people with AIDS may, however, develop rapidly worsening cases of molluscum contagiosum.