Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Moluscum Contagiosum: A Skin Disease Caused by MCV, or Moluscum Contagiosum Virus

The further away we find ourselves from the "Dark Years" of AIDS, the more unaware we become of the strength of the disease, of the virus that causes it. This attitude leads to complacency which, itself, can be deadly. This year, thirty years after the appearance of the first cases of AIDS, some of us try to look back at the devastation--human, and not only--the disease, the pandemic has caused.

While working on my book, JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS, I found it difficult to pronounce some of the medical terms. Moluscum contagiosum was one of these terms. Hearing the story and doing research of this skin disease made it even more intriguing, for me, to write about it. Here's an excerpt from my book, JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS, a biography that tells the story of AIDS through the story of Kurt Weston, a photographer who, left legally-blind by the disease, became an AIDS warrior, and also an award-winning fine art photographer.

Hope you enjoy the read. As always, thanks for visiting,
Alina Oswald


Moluscum contagiosum is a skin disease caused by moluscum contagiosum virus, or MCV, which can be transmitted from person to person. MCV is also autoinoculable, meaning that the infected individual can transmit (or spread) it to himself. The MCV infection is generally characterized by small bumps that appear on the face, upper body, or extremities. MCV infects mostly children and adults with impaired immune systems, the latter experiencing the viral infection manifested as tiny, pearl-like papules on their face. When the T cell count falls below two hundred, as it happens in AIDS patients, the lesions start to spread.
Kurt Weston experienced MCV and the KS lesions at the same time on his face. Moluscum contagiosum virus felt like pebbles stuck under his skin that he spread on himself every day, when shaving. So his entire face became covered with warts. He had them around his eyes, on his nose, his cheeks and down his neck. And it looked unimaginably horrible. “I would walk out and people would look at me like ‘oh my God, what’s wrong with this man?’” the photographer recalls. “It was horrifying. I looked like a circus freak and it was very devastating to me.”
Kurt’s doctor sent him to a dermatologist who was nice, but who mostly treated teenagers with pimples on their faces. The specialist had never before treated the kind of disease Kurt had, but he did his best.
He explained to his patient that there were two ways to treat the warts. One involved freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen and the other, dabbing them with a blistering solution. The dermatologist was skeptical using liquid nitrogen on his patient’s face because it could cause scarring and discoloration, so he advised to go with the blistering agent. 
The substance used in the procedure was extracted from a blister beetle carrying the chemical in its body. The dermatologist was to dab Kurt’s warts with the solution, which, in turn, would cause the warts to pop. Then the blister would heal and the warts would go away. Kurt thought about it and decided to go with the blistering agent.
The dermatologist then told his patient that he was going to cover only twenty warts at a time because the procedure was going to be “really hard” on Kurt. So the doctor took what looked like a long toothpick, dipped it into the blistering solution and started dabbing some of the warts on his patient’s face, and then let him go home.  
Once out of the doctor’s office, Kurt met one of his friends and together they went shopping. While in the store, he started feeling something really itchy on his face and while he couldn’t see his own face, his friend could. “Oh my God, Kurt,” the friend said, “your face is turning into a huge blister!”
The two of them ran out of the store as fast as they could and headed to Kurt’s place. Once inside, the photographer rushed to the bathroom and stared at his reflection in the mirror. His face looked like one of a burn victim. Blisters had filled up over the warts and literally popped with fluid, and there was also a bit of blood gushing out of them and of his face. It also hurt like hell… so bad that at night he couldn’t turn his face on the pillow.
Kurt had to go through several of these sessions for almost one year. During this time, KS lesions and MCV warts covered his face. While Kurt didn’t want to leave his home looking like that, he had no other choice, because there was nobody else there to do the shopping and run the errands for him. The sad part was that the warts went away right after the treatment but once the skin healed, new warts grew right back. They seemed to never go away entirely and it took an endless battle to get rid of them. It was debilitating for Kurt and, sometime in 1994, he decided he couldn’t continue the treatment any longer.