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This article by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the April 16, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

On Molluscum Contagiosum

How shall we ever survive this one? One of my sons has

molluscum contagiosum, plain as the dozen little red blotches on his

chest and underarm and plain as the sheaf of single spaced computer

printouts handed to me by the elementary school nurse.

It’s a virus, the nurse tells me, and it’s contagious. And the boy

might have to be . . . There’s a slight pause here and you sense that

the word "quarantine" might be in play. But then it comes

out: . . . the boy might have to be "excluded" from school.

My eyes race through the 11 pages of Internet postings. It’s from

emedicine.com, a research paper prepared by Dr. C. Lisa Kauffman MD,

chief of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center and a

member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Medical

Association, and the Society for — get this — Investigative

Dermatology. If investigative dermatology is anything like investigative

journalism — I shudder to think.

I keep plowing on through the mound of information. Molluscum contagiosum

virus (MCV, for short, I discover) is "a cutaneous infection caused

by a large DNA poxvirus that affects both children and adults. Transmission

has been reported by direct skin contact and has occurred in children

sharing baths, towels, gymnasium equipment, and benches. Autoinoculation

also occurs as evidenced by linear arrays of lesions."

The dire medical language continues. Links are provided to "related"

articles on basal cell carcinoma, dermatitis herpetiformis, keratoacanthoma,

and warts, nongenital.

Some familiar initials begin to jump out: In patients with AIDS the

lesions that otherwise might be 2 to 6 millimeters in diameter can

be 15 millimeters or more. A close-up photo is shown of an HIV-positive

male, and the lesions have spread to his face. Elsewhere I see that

AZT can be sometimes be effective in treating it — good lord how

will we survive this one?

Of course, we do. Thanks to good, old-fashioned 8 and a half by 11

paper and a laser printer, the nurse gives me my own hard copy of

the Internet findings. Fueled by the belief that a little information

is a dangerous thing, and knowing that the Internet can produce a

mind-numbing amounts of little information, I force myself to read

the print-out slowly and carefully. There in the middle of page 5

is this statement: "Molluscum contagiosum generally is self limited

and heals after several months or years. Any one lesion is present

for about 2 months; however, to prevent autoinoculation or transmission

to close contacts, therapy may be beneficial." On page 8 is another

glimmer of hope: Molluscum contagiosum is a benign self-limited disease.

Treatments are effective. Overall prognosis is excellent."

As the physician’s assistant in the dermatologist’s office later says,

"this isn’t a threat to his health; it’s just a nuisance."

I think back to the warts I had on my hands — right there, for

everyone to see! — when I was 9 or 10. What kind of alarms would

the Internet have sounded for me and my parents if there had been

an Internet. And how — in that dark, pre-Information Age —

did I ever manage to survive those warts?

A few months ago a friend forwarded to me one of those personal essays

that get scattered across the Internet. This one was aimed at children

of the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and even ’70s, and wondered how all of us

could have lived as long as we did, considering that:

As children we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air

bags.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, and when we rode

our bikes we had no helmets.

We got cut and broke bones and broke teeth, and there were no

law suits from these accidents. They were accidents. No one was to

blame but us.

We shared one drink with four friends from one bottle and no

one died of this.

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls.

We had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t

had to learn to deal with disappointment.

Some students weren’t as smart as others and failed exams so

they were held back a year. Tests were not adjusted for any reason.

And, perhaps the one that struck me the most, this: "We

did not have Play Stations, Nintendo 64, X-boxes, video games, 250

satellite channels on TV, DVD movies, surround sound, cell phones,

personal computers, Internet chat rooms. . . We had friends."

Back at the elementary school the health officials apparently

came to the same conclusions I did about molluscum contagiosum. My

boy has not been excluded, though they have asked him to keep his

shirt on — literally now as well as figuratively.

My boy and I will survive MCV, I am convinced. As for the Nintendo,

the movies, the 250 channels, and the Internet chat rooms, I am hopeful

but not nearly so sure.

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