Most people have never heard of this virus, unless you’ve been infected. And once you are, it can be nerve-wrackingly awful, as it deprives you of precious self-esteem and even your sex life. There’s a lot of articles on blogs out there about how people dealt with this, and a lot of forum posts (on spammy, ad-riddled sites). I’d like to tell my story of how I got it and dealt with it.
There WILL be pictures, way at the bottom of this article, way after the jump. It’s technically SFW (safe for work) but there will be close ups of molluscum. I took some pictures myself to keep track of how they looked and where they were, for my own knowledge. Which was great because I did forget where one of them was at a certain point, because it had healed and disappeared.
Now let’s start this off with….
WHAT IS MOLLUSCUM CONTAGIOSUM?
To sum it up, it’s a virus that infects your skin. Visually, it’s a wart – kind of like a pimple, except the shape is different. A pimple is kinda triangle shaped and comes to a peak; molluscum tends to look way fatter than a pimple (wide base) and may have a flat head. Depending on how old it is, you may also see a white dot in the center; you’ll see on the internet that people refer to this as the white “core” of the virus….the infectious stuff, should you pop it. Each “bump” is an infection. You could have 1 bump, a handful, or several dozen, if you are unlucky.
It can enter your skin and infect you if you (A) do not wash your hands regularly or (B) have some kind of tear in your skin. Like if you scratch or rub your skin (which may cause breaks in your skin that you can’t see with the naked eye), it can infect you. Some people consider this an STI because it’s something you can get from having sex (grinding against someone, you can totally break skin without really feeling it), but that’s not the only way. People have gotten Plantar’s warts at the gym purely by accidental contact with an infected surface, and the same thing can happen with molluscum. I saw a dermatologist about this, and she told me that she treats many runway models who have molluscum, and it has destroyed relationships because their boyfriends would think the model got it by cheating on him. But one could contract it from wearing someone else’s clothes, or using someone else’s (damp) towel. I do think it is counterproductive to label molluscum as an STI, because the stigma associated with sexually transmitted diseases makes its victims afraid to seek help out of embarrassment. Oh and one more thing…waxing can make molluscum easier to spread, because there’s no hair “barrier” to reduce skin to skin contact with another person! You can also infect others if you are infected and you take a bath with them. So baths are off limits! I’ll cover this again later.
After researching it online, I’ve also found that it’s common for infants to get infected with this as well.
LIFECYCLE OF MOLLUSCUM
I’m going to describe what I observed to be the life cycle of the molluscum that I had. For pictures, scroll to the bottom of the article…I’ve got the basic life cycle there.
- Invisible. You see your normal, clear, smooth skin. It takes 2 weeks or more for it to incubate and then start showing, so you can be infected without knowing it till way later.
- Pimples. At least, that’s what it’ll look like. Maybe it’s skin colored, maybe it’s slightly pink or reddish. These can start out REALLY tiny, and it may be hard to see their shape…so you might think it’s a pimple or in-grown hair.
- Puffy shape. Can still be pinkish, but now it’s puffy looking, kind of flat-ish at the top instead of the tapered shape a regular pimple has.
- White headed puffy shape. It may also get pretty big at this point as well. At this point, it’s maturing and you can see the white core in the middle of it. Sometimes there’s a little dimple in the absolute center, so it’s more like a white donut inside the bump.
- Scabbing. Once the body is really fighting this thing off, you’ll notice scabbing start to appear on one side of the molluscum….then eventually cover the entire mollusucm! Congratulations, that infection is about to be cleared!
- You’re cured! The skin is smooth, the scab fell off. You may have a bit of scarring or darkened skin at the site (I’m olive skinned so that’s what happens to me….White people might react differently).
HOW DID I GET INFECTED?
As I said above, there are many ways to get infected, and it can be hard to narrow it down. I definitely accused my boyfriend of passing it on to me, although after some rational research – molluscum has an incubation period of 2 weeks before it appears and we had been together for wayyyyy longer than that – I realized that was not where I got it from. Similarly, he I may have gotten it from my ex-boyfriend….but for the same reason as above, I had been away from my ex for too long by the time it showed up.
So how did I get infected? Last year, I went through four surgeries to remove an extremely deep, possibly pre-cancerous mole in my vulva area. It REALLY sucked. The first three surgeries were at the doctor’s clinic, but the final one had me in the Operating Room at a hospital. This was actually a very terrible experience due to how crappily hospitals are run…and even worse, I got infected there. My boyfriend was ruled out. My ex-boyfriend was ruled out. But the molluscum indeed appeared 2-3 weeks after my surgery in the OR, where I was kept waiting for an OR for over 5 hours. I was in a hospital gown, sitting on hospital chairs, with a hospital towel over me for that time….so it could have happened then, or it could have happened when I was in the actual OR and maybe the sheets were dirty. But I think it was probably while waiting for a room. I was also starving since I didn’t eat since the night before, but that’s unrelated to the molluscum infection.
Nothing I can do about the hospital not being clean like that. It’s not like I can prove it concretely. I figured it out after process of elimination, and based off what my Dermatologist told me; I had discussed with her about how I could have gotten it, and the hospital is the only possible way. Sucks but that is life. If you check the internet, you can find anecdotes from other people who got molluscum from touching stuff or sitting on dirty equipment at a gym. You can’t do much to prevent it except keep clean; wash your hands, wipe down machines, things like that.
Oh yeah, and I did pass it on to my poor boyfriend while we were taking a bath :( I feel pretty bad about that, but I didn’t even know I was infected at that point yet. I was instructed to take baths after my operation, to soothe the pain of my scar area. It would sometimes be so painful it would wake me up, so I did this often.
THERE ARE SEVERAL WAYS TO CURE MOLLUSCUM
- Do Nothing. Molluscum is a virus, and like most other viruses, it’s up to your immune system to get rid of it. You can’t take an antibiotic or a pill to get rid of it. But there are still some things you can do to help your body fight it! Eat a diet that will keep your immune system in its best fighting shape. Eat healthy, eat yogurt, eat real food, avoid processed, etc. etc. Fruits and vegetables really help here. Look up diets that will boost your immune system. Garlic helps a lot – if you don’t like the taste of it (I LOVE FRESH GARLIC IN ALL MY FOODS), there are also capsulated ground garlic supplements you can buy. It’s just crushed garlic in a capsule, so you don’t taste it on the way down. You probably will still have garlicy burps though! You also need to take extreme care that you do not spread the virus to other parts of your skin!!! This is really important; a lot of people end up accidentally scratching or popping their molluscum and it spreads from a handful to a dozen papules. Keep your hands clean. Utilize self control and DO NOT SCRATCH! Do not pick at it, do not touch it…wash that area in the shower thoroughly. STICK TO SHOWERS, not baths! That way you aren’t soaking in the virus, should something pop and release it without your knowledge, and it won’t find an opening somewhere else in your skin to enter. It might take a few weeks, it might take over a year, but your body CAN clear the infection on its own.
- Stimulate the Immune System to “Pay Attention” to Where the Molluscum is. This is a step more involved than “do nothing”. You are still letting your immune system handle the infection, but with molluscum, you need to get your body to “pay attention” to that part of your skin and realize there’s an infection there. There are a few popular methods to do this, and I tried all of these.
A. Apple Cider Vinegar Treatment. This is very popular with the internet, and it’s VERY cheap. You don’t have much to lose with this method, financially. Buy some apple cider vinegar at the grocery – you’ll want the kind that has some pulpy guck at the bottom of the bottle. At night, before bed, I put a little bit of the vinegar on a Q-tip and swabbed it on to each infection site individually. I didn’t double dip, because I didn’t want to risk contaminating my vinegar (I do this with my make up remover too, haha!). It sometimes stings a little. You do not wanna just apply vinegar to a big area of your skin, because the vinegar is going to irritate you and cause this burning feeling. Sometimes I would dab some on and just chill out on my bed, to let it all air dry before I put my clothes back on. I did this at night, and occasionally in the morning as well. In a few days, this caused some of the molluscum to “mature” – they went from being pink papules to white-cored, puffy things…they got bigger, and that’s a good sign. But I was not diligent with doing this routinely, and soon fell completely off the wagon after a week.
Some people on the internet advocate dipping a cotton ball in to the vinegar and adhering it to your body, using tape. I don’t think this is a great idea because it burns too much. So….do that at your own risk. I think just dabbing it is fine enough; I saw progress with it but your mileage may vary.
B. Duct Tape Treatment. Another cheap method! I don’t know the science on why this works, and I’ve read people write that “suffocating” the molluscum helps get rid of it. That explanation leaves me skeptical. But I did try this, and it DID help A LOT. I cut duct tape in to small squares, just big enough to cover the molluscum and a tiny bit of skin around it. You kinda end up looking like a person wearing tracking markers :P
You’re gonna feel silly, but it’s worth it!
I taped them up and left it on all day, until bed time. Don’t leave it on too long, it gets gross (think of bandaid guck you get around the edges of the bandaid), and c’mon, you should still be showering! My guess is that this also irritates your skin (via “suffocation?”) and makes your body pay attention to where the molluscum is, the same way the vinegar irritates the area so your body pays attention. Again, in a few days I saw the papules mature…and since I could leave these on all day without any discomfort, it got to work faster than the vinegar swabbing. The papules quickly became huge and “mature”. The one draw back is, if you have any in a hair covered area (pubic hair…or arm hair…or leg hair…etc.) it huuuuurts to rip off the tape! I was worried at first that it would pop the papule when I ripped it off, but it never did. Another good thing about this…I had one on my panty-line, which would get irritated by my clothing when I walked. I had another on the side of my knee that also got irritated by my pants when I walked. Putting duct tape helped SO MUCH. I almost ripped one open by accident from my clothes rubbing against them, and didn’t need to worry about that anymore with the duct tape.
C. Imiquimod Topical Medicine. This is something you need a prescription from a doctor (Dermatologist) for, and it’s REALLY expensive. I’m not joking. I have insurance, which paid for more than half of this thing, and it was still $150 out of pocket! There is no other drug like it that you can legally get as an alternative, thank you patent laws/pharmaceutical exploitation….But you know what? It’s worth it to get rid of this horrible virus!! (And Big Pharma knows sufferers will think it’s worth it. But I digress, no time for a rant). I split the cost with my boyfriend – he offered to help me pay for it because the price was the only thing holding me back from getting it, and we were sick and tired of having molluscum. So, I should note that I am lucky and had 7 total papules, that’s it. Other people get it really bad and have dozens. Imiquimod comes in little packets, and even splitting 1 packet between me and my boyfriend, we had a lot of extra, which you’re instructed not to save. It’s funny..this drug is also used for treating other kinds of warts – like HPV/genital warts – and when I asked the Pharmacy tech for my prescription…he dropped his voice to be VERY quiet as he talked to me about my medication! I’m not that embarrassed about it. I don’t have herpes. I didn’t get it from sex. And even if I did, WHATEVER! Anyway. Thought it was kinda funny. Back to Imiquimod!
It’s a topical cream that – again – stimulates your immune system to pay attention to the area you apply it to. It may also cause a burning sensation, like the vinegar….but unlike the vinegar, I found it to be way more effective! It worked way faster. You apply it the same way – at night, dab a little on to each molluscum papule. They say to do it at night before bed, so you’re less likely to accidentally rub it off by moving around too much. You are supposed to do it every other night, to give your skin a break from the irritation. So what I would do is put it on one night, wash it off with a shower in the morning, and then put on the duct tape for the rest of the day. This double treatment worked amazingly well. I still wish it wasn’t so expensive to buy Imiquimod, but I’m very happy that I got it.
- Surgery, or Cryosurgery. This is what was one of the options recommended to me by my doctors. If you don’t have that many, like me, your dermatologist could cut them off with a scalpel. However, it could result in scarring. My Gyno actually did this to one of my molluscum papules, so she could biopsy it. No anaesthesia, you don’t need it for such a quick nick. I’m no stranger to pain and can handle it, especially after the previous surgeries I had for my mole. Another thing is Cryosurgery – the Dermatologist will freeze the molluscum and do some more curettage to cut it off your body. Both surgeries may lead to scarring, and there’ll be some pain. The more molluscum, the more surface area needs cutterage and freezing, the more pain. But it seems like my dermatologist thought this method is better to immediately get rid of the papules and deal with a lot of them at a time. She actually recommended doing both Imiquimod on my own and doing the cryosurgery; the two methods together, she said, will get rid of it quick. After all the vulvectomies I did last year, I did NOT want this option…so I just took the Imiquimod prescription, not the cryosurgery.
- Pop the Molluscum. I do NOT RECOMMEND this at all!! I’ve seen on a lot of internet forums that people will do this…they’ll get frustrated that molluscum isn’t going away, and they’ll pop it, squeeze out the “core”, and then thoroughly clean and disinfect the area. I find this to be dangerous because you could do it wrong and end up spreading it to even more parts of your body. Proceed at your own risk, I don’t want anything to do with this method. It was not worth trying to me.
MY MOLLUSCUM WAS CURED IN ABOUT A MONTH
As mentioned earlier, I duct taped during the day and applied Imiquimod every other night. All 7 disappeared in a month, and nothing new has popped up. I AM SO HAPPY. <– this is an understatement.
Annnnd, it’s picture time! Let’s start with some normal looking ones…As you can see, they aren’t matured white-headed ones yet, but they are definitely shaped differently from pimples/ingrown hairs.
To anyone who has this annoying, gross affliction, do not panic. Do not think it’s the end of the world! Remember that you can beat this, you just need patience, diligence, and if not patience…then some cash. I highly, highly recommend seeing an actual dermatologist to make sure it really is molluscum and go over the do’s and don’ts with you…I’m NOT a medical professional, just someone who had molluscum and detailed her journey to eliminating it on her personal blog. Good luck to everyone, YOU CAN BEAT THIS THING!!!