This time on STDs You’ve Never Heard Of, we present to you a sort of skin infection whose name resembles that of an invertebrate you’d find in the sea, Molluscum.
What Is Molluscum?
Molluscum contagiosum, although not technically an STD/STI, is a skin infection that can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. The Center For Disease Control (CDC) states that molluscum cases have been on the rise since 1996, though it is fairly uncommon, accounting for less than than 3% of STIs in the United States.
Molluscum usually occurs in people 20 to 40 years old, that is caused by a poxvirus called the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV). There are four types of MCV: MCV-1 to -4. MCV-2 is the type most commonly occurring in adults and is most often sexually transmitted. The virus affects the outer layer of skin and does not circulate throughout the body in healthy people.
Molluscum manifests as small, round, raised flesh-colored bumps on the skin that usually have a little dimple in the middle. When molluscum is sexually transmitted, those bumps usually appear on the vulva or penis, the area around the anus, the lower abdomen, inner thighs and/or buttocks. If they are contracted through oral sex, they may appear on the face. The bumps might not feel like anything, but might also feel itchy or sore, especially if you rub them, scratch them or pick at them.
The incubation time from getting the infection to seeing bumps can be as long as six months, but is usually between two to seven weeks.
How It’s Spread
It’s usually spread by direct contact from skin-to-skin (like Herpes or HPV), during sex or other intimate, close contact with someone who has it. It is most often spread by direct contact with the bumps or the area they are present on, but it can also be spread via contact with things like clothing or towels used by someone with molluscum.
The papules themselves tend to spread more on one person’s body if they’re picked at, squeezed or scratched, and shaving the area can also cause them to spread.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Molluscum can be diagnosed through a visual exam from a healthcare professional, which can then be confirmed by a biopsy (skin sample) of one of the bumps.
Once diagnosed, there’s an array of opinion about if molluscum needs to be treated. Molluscum usually disappears within 6 to 12 months without treatment and without leaving scars, though some growths may remain for up to 4 years (and can therefore still be spread to others). Often, healthcare providers will not suggest treatment, but suggest just letting the virus run its course, much like is usually done with a cold virus or chickenpox.
If your healthcare provider does suggest treatment, there are topical treatments (like peroxide, astringents, tea tree oil or other topical agents), cryotherapy (“freezing” cells/bumps with a pressurized liquid spray, like liquid nitrogen), laser or other treatments that work best. What treatment is used will tend to depend on the preference of a given provider and/or where the bumps are and how many of them there are.
If you do shave areas where molluscum appears, it’s best to stop while you have molluscum, since shaving tends to spread the papules further. You also will want to avoid picking at or itching the bumps.
Like with other STIs, use of condoms for genital sex can help. But as with STIs like Herpes that are transmitted from skin-to-skin, rather than through fluids, condoms don’t protect as well against molluscum as they do against infections like HIV or Chlamydia. Still, we can expect a similar level of protection (usually estimated at around 70%) from barriers that can be provided with HPV and herpes for molluscum. Also, giving the FC2 Female Condom a try in cases like these could prove to be super beneficial, as they provide extra protection for the outside of your vagina.