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The poxvirus family includes a large number of related DNA viruses that infect various vertebrate hosts. The poxviruses responsible for infections in humans, along with the main manifestations of these infections, are listed in Table 183-1. Infections with orthopoxviruses—e.g., smallpox (variola major) virus (Chap. 221) or the zoonotic monkeypox virus—can result in systemic, potentially lethal human disease. Other poxvirus infections cause primarily localized skin disease in humans.

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Table 183-1 Poxviruses and Human Infections

Molluscum contagiosum virus is an obligate human pathogen that causes distinctive proliferative skin lesions. These lesions measure 2–5 mm in diameter and are pearly, flesh-colored, and umbilicated, with a characteristic dimple at the center (Fig. 183-1). A relative lack of inflammation and necrosis distinguishes these proliferative lesions from other poxvirus lesions. Lesions may be found—singly or in clusters—anywhere on the body except on the palms and soles and may be associated with an eczematous rash.

Figure 183-1
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Molluscum contagiosum is a cutaneous poxvirus infection characterized by multiple umbilicated flesh-colored or hypopigmented papules.


Molluscum contagiosum is highly prevalent in children and is the most common human disease resulting from poxvirus infection. Swimming pools are a common vector for transmission. Atopy and compromise of skin integrity increase the risk of infection. Genital lesions are more frequent in adults, to whom the virus may be transmitted by sexual contact. The incubation period ranges from2 weeks to 6 months, with an average of 2–7 weeks. In most cases, the disease is self-limited and regresses spontaneously after 3–4 months in immunocompetent hosts. There are no systemic complications, but skin lesions may persist for 3–5 years. Molluscum contagiosum can be associated with immunosuppression and is frequently seen among HIV-infected patients (Chap. 189). The disease can be more generalized, severe, and persistent in AIDS patients than in other groups. Moreover, molluscum contagiosum can be exacerbated in the immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS) associated with the initiation of antiretroviral therapy.


The diagnosis of molluscum contagiosum is typically based on its clinical ...

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