In all the discussions about STI’s (Sexually Transmitted Infections) you always hear the same old stuff about the same old infections. Sure, every so often a new one gets thrown into the mix, but then you hear about that one along with the rest of them all the time. Herpes, HIV, HPV/genital warts, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Crabs, and Hepatitis all get their moment in the sun. You hear about them in sex ed, read about them in books and in the media, and hear about them in day to day conversation. But there are other STIs that you do not hear about and may not even know anything about.
One such STI is Molluscum contagiosum (MC). Surprising you don’t hear about it considering how contagious it is (did you not get that from the second part of its name?). MC is a viral infection spread through skin to skin contact or via shared items like towels. It’s most prevalent in the immunodeficient (like HIV+, transplant patients, the elderly, etc.), children – which lets face it, their immune systems kind of suck too-, and sexually active adults.
MC forms lesions on the skin which often look like pimples or ingrown hairs to the untrained eye. They are shiny red or skin-colored bumps with a little dimple in the center filled with a waxy white substance which actually contains the virus. I’ll leave it up to you to do the Google image search. The bumps often itch, which is how the virus spreads. Scratch scratch scratch and the white stuff gets all spread around to make more bumps. Even worse, now that shaving your genitals is all the rage. One day you think you just have an ingrown hair and the next you have itchy bumps all over your genitals. And if you shave other places with that same razor, you probably just spread them there as well.
MC is no fun! But the good news is that its relatively easy to treat. First, get yourself to a doctor to make sure that is what you have. Then the most common treatments are usually burning the lesions with acid or freezing them with liquid nitrogen. Some doctors will just scrape the white stuff out. If you don’t have a lot of bumps you can try your luck with cleaning the area thoroughly, scraping out the white stuff, and then cleaning the area and your hands/implements used for scratching. If you have a weak immune system though I would recommend against this.
The other option is to just let the virus run its course. This can take up to 2 years. But seriously, who the heck wants to do that? You could infect all kinds of people and that shit itches.
The great news is that once the lesions are gone, the virus is gone. It does not hide in your body like herpes or HPV. However, just because you had it once, does not mean you can’t catch it again. If your partner still has it you could pass it back and forth to each other for eternity – and condoms aren’t going to do any good. So make sure everyone gets treated and you wash all of your towels, clothes, and sheets. And give yourself a couple weeks after the disappearance of the lesions to declare yourself MC free.
How can you protect yourself against MC? Well, really its not all that easy. If your partner has it, or someone else in your household has it (and you share towels) there is a very good chance that you will also get it. You can decrease your risks by using condoms (the female condom is actually the best for this as it covers the vulva), dental dams, and gloves. And of course, if you see something abnormal on your or your partners’ bodies then do not have sex.