Molluscum contagiosum, caused by a poxvirus, presents as single or multiple dome-shaped, waxy papules 2–5 mm in diameter that are umbilicated (Figure 6–13) (eFigure 6–44)(eFigure 6–45). Lesions at first are firm, solid, and flesh-colored but upon reaching maturity become soft, whitish, or pearly gray and may suppurate. The principal sites of involvement are the face, lower abdomen, and genitals.
Molluscum contagiosum. Umbilicated shiny papules on the chest in a patient with HIV disease. (Used with permission, from Lindy Fox, MD.)
Waxy umbilicated papules of molluscum contagiosum are spread by wet skin-to-skin contact. (Used, with permission, from K Zipperstein, MD.)
Umbilicated—molluscum. (Reproduced with permission from Richard P. Usatine, MD, in Usatine RP, Smith MA, Mayeaux EJ Jr, Chumley H. The Color Atlas of Family Medicine, 3nd ed. McGraw-Hill, 2019.)
The lesions are autoinoculable and spread by wet skin-to-skin contact. In sexually active individuals, they may be confined to the penis, pubis, and inner thighs and are considered a sexually transmitted infection.
Molluscum contagiosum is common in patients with AIDS, usually with a helper T-cell count less than 100/mcL (0.1 × 109/L). Extensive lesions tend to develop over the face and neck as well as in the genital area.
The diagnosis is easily established in most instances because of the distinctive central umbilication of the dome-shaped lesion. Estimated time to remission is 13 months. The best treatment is by curettage or applications of liquid nitrogen as for warts—but more briefly. When lesions are frozen, the central umbilication often becomes more apparent. Light electrosurgery with a fine needle is also effective. Cantharadin (applied in the office and then washed off by the patient 4 hours later) is a safe and effective option. Another treatment option is 10% or 15% potassium hydroxide solution applied twice daily until lesions clear. Salicylic acid, podophyllotoxin, tretinoin, imiquimod, and intralesional immunotherapy are additional treatment options. Physical destruction with pulsed dye laser or via extraction of molluscum bodies with a comedone extractor or currette is also effective. Lesions are difficult to eradicate in patients with AIDS unless immunity improves; however, with highly effective antiretroviral treatment, molluscum usually spontaneously clears.
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et al. Efficacy and safety of topical cantharidin treatment for molluscum contagiosum and warts: a systematic review. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2018;19:791.
et al. Intralesional immunotherapy for molluscum contagiosum: a review. Dermatol Ther. 2020;33:e14386.