Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Molluscum contagiosum (MC)
What is it?
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection caused by a pox virus.
How do I catch it?
The MC virus is transmitted through close skin contact, including genital contact during sex.
It can also be transmitted though indirect contact with someone else, such as a shared towel.
Symptoms tend to appear a few weeks after exposure.
The most common symptom of MC is the appearance of small spots or abnormal patches on the skin. This is usually the only symptom. In sexually active adults, the spots usually appear on the groin area, spreading upwards over the pubic and abdominal (tummy) areas, genitals and inner thighs.
The spots can be more extensive in people with skin conditions such as eczema, or in people with a weakened immune system, such as in people with untreated HIV infection, or people taking medications which suppress the immune system.
The spots are usually firm, raised and painless. You may notice that some of the spots have a tiny grey head in the centre and look pearly. This head may rupture (split), causing a thick yellowy-white substance to escape. This substance is highly infectious so you should avoid handling or squeezing the spots, or shaving the skin in that area, as this can spread the infection to other parts of the body.
The spots do not usually leave scars, but you may notice that each one leaves a tiny patch of lighter skin or a small pitted mark.
Molluscum contagiosum is usually diagnosed by physical examination, and tests are not often required. A doctor may also take a sample from one of the spots if a diagnosis is more uncertain.
All Umbrella clinics offer testing for sexually transmitted infections.
In most cases, molloscum contagiosum will go away within 18 months without the need for treatment. However, you are likely to pass on the infection to sexual partners so if you’re found to have the infection you will usually be offered treatment. MC can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing) with liquid nitrogen, which has a rapid effect.
Other treatments such as salicylic acid can also be used.
Squeezing the spots is not recommended because it can lead to scarring, and also risks spreading the spots to other parts of the body.
All Umbrella clinics provide treatment for sexually transmitted infections. To find clinics, and to see which services they offer, please see the service locator.
Detailed information on STIs is available on the NHS website.
See the FPA website for a range of downloadable leaflets on sexually transmitted infections.
The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) website also features a range of downloadable leaflets on STIs.