A case study by medical herbalist, Joseph Nolan
Things in clinic come in cycles. Recently, Molluscum Contagiosum has been in the headlines, with children from five to eleven coming to see me and my pediatric herbalist colleague Clare in recent weeks complaining of the dreaded 'Water Warts'.
Molluscum is a virus that affects the skin, causing small wart-like lumps, often with a characteristic dimple on top. It is much more common in children, and only very rarely affects the same person twice. It can last from a few weeks to several years, with the average being 6-18 months, and eventually resolves without treatment. Whilst some children only have a few lumps, others can have a lot of them and they may be extremely itchy. The most common areas are the armpits and upper chest, midriff, legs, and groin, although most patients have just one of these areas affected at any one time. It can be a very unpleasant, and unsightly, condition.
Case History - David
David is a pretty typical case. Age 7 and, essentially, healthy with no digestive problems, asthma, sleep difficulties or other conditions common in children, he nevertheless sometimes has mild eczema flares which have been getting more frequent and severe since he was a toddler. His mother also reports that he often gets colds, but they do not linger. He has no known allergies, no history of serious illness, no relevant family history, and is an active happy child. Except for the itchy warty bumps on his chest, arm, and creeping down his flank, he appeared to be in good health although some of the bumps were very itchy indeed and there were scabby scratches under his arm. He had been diagnosed with molluscum some two months before, and his mother had sought treatment for it because of the spread and the itching.
I gave David a pretty typical mix, with mineral-rich Horsetail to support the structure of his skin; Cleavers to improve lymphatic cleansing; Echinacea to boost his immune system; Reishi mushroom to support and improve his immune system; and Thuja as an anti-viral. Topically, I gave him a lotion with Chickweed cream for the itch; anti-viral Thuja tincture; cooling and soothing Witch Hazel water; and anti-inflammatory Lavender and Peppermint essential oils to cool and disinfect.
While it can take up to 12 weeks for much to happen with the herbs, David was lucky and by his follow-up appointment the itching had gone, the spreading had stopped, and the older lesions were resolving. By his second follow up the bumps had disappeared, leaving no scars, and he needed no additional appointments.
Support Strategy & Herbs
Cutaneous viruses like Molluscum, warts, and verrucas, all have a common MO: they wall themselves off from the immune system and multiply off the radar. Their secret to survival is to avoid detection by the immune system. So, in treatment, the main strategy is to give immunity a little bit of a boost so it notices the invader, add in some anti-infective herbs to weaken the infection, and then, when the patient’s immune system notices, it can clear up the problem quickly and cleanly, never to return.
Viral infections generally need herbs that are anti-viral and, for treating this type of skin infection, Thuja is the big name. In children especially, lymphatic function is very important because it is the lymph which carries the majority of the body’s immune cells and removes metabolic wastes, as well as the wastes from fighting infection. So I always use a lymphatic when treating Molluscum. I have noticed that children who contract the condition, especially those who get a bad case, tend not to have tip-top immune systems. They catch a lot of bugs at nursery or school and may have eczema or other atopic conditions that can increase their susceptibility to infection. The slightly lowered immunity gives an invader like Molluscum, for whom survival depends on not being noticed, the perfect opportunity to set up camp. So, in addition to anti-virals and lymphatics, I usually include something to boost immunity and give the kids a little nudge. Immune helper herbs I use include Reishi Mushroom, Elderberry, and Siberian Ginseng, selected depending on the child and other conditions or predispositions she or he may have.
Whilst David was fortunate and the initial prescription worked for him, and quickly, sometimes the blend can need a little tweaking. For example, Rebecca, who is prone to raised glands and has had a couple of bouts of tonsillitis, needed more lymphatics; a little extra immune support for Jamie, who had pneumonia as a baby; Ruby, with very dry skin and bad eczema, needed a more complex regimen, with supplements and dietary changes in addition to herbs. It can take up to twelve weeks for the condition to budge, but when it does it goes quickly, knowing it’s beaten. While I do not like seeing people suffer, I like treating Molluscum – it’s satisfying to see something which can make a person so very miserable just disappear and leave no trace. There aren't many things like that in life, so I’m always happy when I see a person with Molluscum come through the clinic door.