Molluscum Contagiosum – A Harry Potter Spell?
I love the sound of this virus. If you draw it out when you say it, Mohhhllusscum Contagioooosum, it sounds like a spell used in Harry Potter. With a flick of the wrist and a swish of the wand, your opponent’s body will erupt in snails.
But why am I babbling on about this? Number 5 has an unusual rash on his leg that reminds me a little of a rash that Number 4 had when she was 2. Number 4 was diagnosed with molluscum contagiosum based on pictures I emailed to our pediatrician (gotta love modern technology). I had read about the virus in textbooks, but I had never seen it first hand in one of my kids. Being the good scientist that I am, I learned all about it. And I thought you might be interested in hearing what I learned.
Molluscum contagiosum is in the same family as smallpox. Although molluscum contagiosum infections are rarely dangerous, the virus is in the same family as smallpox, a once lethal virus that was eradicated through a worldwide vaccination program.
The rash is very distinct. Unlike a lot of viral rashes that look alike, the rash caused by molluscum contagiosum is pretty unforgettable. The rash is a series of raised bumps that are flesh, white or slightly yellow colored. They are smooth and pearly and may have a dimple in the middle. Bumps may be found in clusters. In kids the rash is most often found on the torso or on the arms and legs (Number 4 had it on her leg).
Infection is long-lived. Individual bumps can last 2 months, but clearance of all bumps can take as long as 6-18 months! Autoinoculation is common and results in spreading the virus to another part of the body, prolonging infection. Infection can be spread as long as bumps are visible.
No communal bathing when dealing with molluscum contagiosum. This hampered our lifestyle and significantly increased our water bill! The virus is caught by rubbing against bumps on an infected person, or by sharing baths, towels or gym equipment. In adults, molluscum contagiosum is a sexually transmitted disease.
The exact prevalence of molluscum contagiosum is unknown. Infections with molluscum contagiosum do not need to be reported and many patients do not seek treatment, therefore it is hard to know how many people are affected by it. However, the virus is common, particularly among children 1-10 years of age. One paper cited a reported prevalence of 6-7% in elementary school children. Outbreaks can occur in schools and higher incidences are found in other countries.
Reinfections can occur. Unlike herpesviruses, the virus will eventually leave your body. However, people can be infected multiple times with molluscum contagiosum.
There is really no treatment. No treatment is recommended for normal healthy children. From my own experience, my daughter didn’t even know she had the rash, so this didn’t concern me.
As to Number 5’s rash, it resolved in a few days, so I am pretty sure none of his siblings put a spell on him. And I can still save on bath water!