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A common, contagious kids rash you've probably never heard of

Unless your kids have been diagnosed with molloscum contagiosum, it's a rash you probably haven't heard of it.

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Coleen Hanson Smith
, Go Ask Mom writer

Unless your kids have been diagnosed with molloscum contagiosum, it’s a rash you probably haven’t heard of it. Which is kind of strange since it’s so common that UNC Health pediatrician Dr. Edward Pickens says he sees it at least once a week.

“It’s an extremely common rash caused by a pox virus,” he explains. Dr. Pickens describes the appearance of the rash as “dome-shaped bumps on the skin” that are skin-colored (not typically red unless your child has scratched them.) Parents often describe the bumps as small blisters and Dr. Pickens says they are generally 2-3 mm in size and come in clusters. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a picture of them on its website.

Although some preschoolers, teens and adults get it, molloscum contagiosum most commonly impacts elementary school aged kids. It typically presents on the legs or thighs, but can show up virtually anywhere. It’s contagious so it can spread from person to person or through clothing, towels or bath toys, for example. Because of this, kids are encouraged not to scratch it to limit the spreading across their own body or to others.

“Scratching can lead to a vicious cycle of spreading the rash and making it feel really irritated,” relates Dr. Pickens. “If you can get your child to simply leave it alone – it will eventually go away on its own without any treatment.”

Perhaps the strangest thing about this rash is its potential duration – it’s not your average week-long breakout. Molloscum contagiosum typically lasts 6 to 12 months – but can even last for up to four years. While the rash has no long-term side effects and certainly isn’t dangerous, for kids (or parents) who are bothered by it, there are a number of treatment options. Dr. Pickens says pediatricians typically diagnose the molloscum contagiosum and then send kids to a dermatologist for treatment.

While it’s not necessary to treat it, children who get large patches of molloscum contagiosum may be self-conscious about how it looks – or may just be irritated by the bumps. “To clear the rash, there’s a long list of topical treatments to choose from,” Dr. Pickens tells us.

“My personal favorite is beetlejuice – which you can get from your local pharmacy with a prescription. You simply paint it on the bumps to kill the virus. Other options include various creams such as those used to treat warts. All of these treatments are topical, which means that every cluster of the rash has to be treated – there are no oral medications to treat molloscum rashes.”

Long story short? If your kid does have molloscum contagiosum, the good news is it’s not dangerous and it’s fairly easy to treat. Most pediatricians can diagnose it with a quick exam and you’ll be on your way to a dermatologist who can make recommendations based on your child’s specific presentation. Or, as Dr. Pickens reminds us, “With molloscum contagiosum, you can do absolutely nothing and it will go away on its own as your child’s immune system develops and matures.”


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