Mycoplasma pneumonia (MP) is a contagious respiratory infection. The disease spreads easily through contact with respiratory fluids, and it causes regular epidemics.
The most common sign of infection is a dry cough. Untreated or severe cases can have symptoms affecting the heart and nervous system. In rare cases, MP can be fatal.
Diagnosis is difficult in the early stages of MP because there are few unusual symptoms. As the disease progresses, imaging and laboratory tests may be able to detect it. Doctors use antibiotics to treat MP. If antibiotics aren’t effective at treating MP, you may need intravenous medications.
A bacterium called Mycoplasma pneumonia causes MP. This is the most recognized of all human pathogens. There are over 200 different known species. Most patients with respiratory infection due to Mycoplasma pneumoniae don’t develop pneumonia. Once inside the body, the bacterium may attach itself to your lung tissue and multiply until a full infection develops. Most cases are mild.
In many healthy adults, the immune system is capable of fighting off MP before it can grow into an infection. Those who are most at risk include:
- older adults
- people who have diseases that compromise their immune system, such as HIV
- people who have lung disease
- people who have sickle cell disease
- children younger than age 5
The symptoms of MP are the same as a common upper respiratory tract infection.
Common symptoms of MP include:
- persistent fever
- dry cough
In rare cases, the infection may become dangerous and cause damage to the heart or central nervous system. Examples of these disorders include:
- arthritis, which is a disorder in which the joints become inflamed
- pericarditis, which is inflammation of the pericardium that surrounds the heart
- Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a neurological disorder that can lead to paralysis and death
- encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain
The disease generally develops silently for the first one to three weeks after exposure. Diagnosis is difficult in the early stages because the body doesn’t instantly reveal an infection. Sometimes manifestations of infection may occur outside of your lung. If this happens, signs of infection may include the breakup of red blood cells, a skin rash, and joint involvement. The symptoms and signs can indicate infection of the gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system, and heart disease. Three to seven days after the first symptoms appear, medical testing can show evidence of an MP infection.
In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor will listen to your breathing with a stethoscope for any abnormal sounds. A chest X-ray and a CT scan may also help your doctor to make a diagnosis.
The first line of treatment for MP is antibiotics. Children get different antibiotics than adults to avoid any potentially dangerous side effects.
Macrolides, the first choice of antibiotics for children, include:
Antibiotics prescribed for adults include:
Not all people respond to antibiotic treatment. Alternative treatments include the following corticosteroids:
If you have a severe case of MP, you may need antibiotics and a
“immunomodulatory therapy.” This type of therapy can boost or decrease the effects of other medicines. Examples of immunomodulatory medications that are used with antibiotics include:
- intravenous Ig (IVIg)
MP peaks in the fall and winter months. The risk of contracting MP is greatest during these times. This is especially true in schools, day care centers, and dorms. Close places make it easy for the infection to transmit from person-to-person.
Here are some tips to lower your risk of infection:
- Get six to eight hours of sleep per night.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Stay away from people who have symptoms of MP.
- Wash hands before eating or after interacting with infected people.
People with weak immune systems or chronic infections may have difficulty fighting off an MP infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mycoplasma pneumoniae is the second most common cause of pneumonia-related hospitalizations in adults.
However, for most people, symptoms should subside quickly after treatment. You can expect a cough to linger. Within two to four weeks, most cases resolve with no lasting consequences.