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Interventions for cutaneous molluscum contagiosum

  • Review
  • Intervention




Molluscum contagiosum is a common skin infection, caused by a virus, which will usually resolve within months in people with a normal immune system. Many treatments have been promoted for molluscum contagiosum but a clear evidence base supporting them is lacking.


To assess the effects of management strategies (including waiting for natural resolution) for cutaneous, non-genital molluscum contagiosum in healthy people.

Search strategy

We searched the Skin Group Specialised Register (March 2004), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (2004, Issue 2), MEDLINE (from 1966 to March 2004), EMBASE (from 1980 to March 2004) and LILACS (from 1982 to March 2004) databases. We also searched reference lists and contacted pharmaceutical companies and experts in the field.

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials for treatment of molluscum contagiosum were investigated. Trials on sexually transmitted molluscum contagiosum and in people with lowered immunity (including those with HIV infection) were excluded.

Data collection and analysis

Study selection and assessment of methodological quality were carried out by two independent authors. As similar comparisons between two interventions were not made in more than one study, statistical pooling was not performed.

Main results

Five studies, with a total number of 137 participants, examined the effects of topical (three studies), systemic and homoeopathic interventions (one study each). Limited evidence was found for sodium nitrite co-applied with salicylic acid compared to salicylic acid alone (risk ratio (RR) 3.50, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.23 to 9.92). No statistically significant differences were found for topical povidone iodine plus salicylic acid compared to povidone iodine alone (RR of cure 1.67, 95% CI 0.81 to 3.41) or compared to salicylic acid alone. Also no statistically significant differences were found for potassium hydroxide compared to placebo; systemic treatment with cimetidine versus placebo or systemic treatment with calcarea carbonic a, a homoeopathic drug, versus placebo (RR 5.57, 95% CI 0.93 to 33.54).

Study limitations included no blinding (two studies), many dropouts (three studies) and no intention-to-treat analysis (two studies); small study sizes may have led to important differences being missed. None of the evaluated treatment options were associated with serious adverse effects.

Authors' conclusions

No single intervention has been shown to be convincingly effective in treating molluscum contagiosum.

Plain language summary

There is not enough evidence to show that any particular treatment is effective for treating molluscum infection.

Molluscum contagiosum, in healthy people, is a self-limiting, relatively harmless viral skin infection. It affects mainly children and adolescents. People may seek treatment, however, for social and aesthetic reasons and because of concerns about spreading the disease to others. This review found that many common treatments for molluscum, such as physical destruction, have not been adequately evaluated. Since most lesions will resolve within months without leaving scars, molluscum contagiosum can be left to heal naturally until better evidence on treatment options emerges.

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