Mycoplasma pneumonia (MP) is a contagious respiratory infection that spreads easily through contact with respiratory fluids. It can cause epidemics.
MP is known as an atypical pneumonia and is sometimes called “walking pneumonia.” It spreads quickly in crowded areas, such as schools, college campuses, and nursing homes. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, moisture containing the MP bacteria is released into the air. Uninfected people in their environment can easily breathe the bacteria in.
Up to one 5th of all lung infections that people develop in their community (outside of a hospital) are caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria. The bacteria can cause tracheobronchitis (chest colds), sore throats, and ear infections as well as pneumonia.
A dry cough is the most common sign of infection. Untreated or severe cases can affect the brain, heart, peripheral nervous system, skin, and kidneys and cause hemolytic anemia In rare cases, MP is fatal.
Early diagnosis is difficult because there are few unusual symptoms. As MP progresses, imaging and laboratory tests may be able to detect it. Doctors use antibiotics to treat MP. You may need IV antibiotics if oral antibiotics don’t work or if the pneumonia is severe.
The Mycoplasma pneumonia bacterium is one of the most recognized of all human pathogens. There are over 200 different known species. Most people with respiratory infections caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae don’t develop pneumonia. Once inside the body, the bacterium can attach itself to your lung tissue and multiply until a full infection develops. Most cases of mycoplasma pneumonia are mild.
In many healthy adults, the immune system can fight off MP before it grows into an infection. Those most at risk include:
- older adults
- people who have diseases that compromise their immune system, such as HIV, or who are on chronic steroids, immunotherapy, or chemotherapy
- people who have lung disease
- people who have sickle cell disease
- children younger than age.
How is mycoplasma pneumonia diagnosed?
MP usually develops without noticeable symptoms for the first one to three weeks after exposure. Early-stage diagnosis is difficult because the body doesn’t instantly reveal an infection.
As previously mentioned, the infection can manifest outside of your lung. If this happens, signs of infection may include the breakup of red blood cells, a skin rash and joint involvement. Medical testing can show evidence of an MP infection three to seven days after the first symptoms appear.
In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen for any abnormal sounds in your breathing. A x-ray of the chest and a CT scan may also help your doctor to make a diagnosis. Your doctor may order blood tests to confirm the infection.
Antibiotics are the first line of treatment for MP. Children get different antibiotics than adults to prevent potentially dangerous side effects.