Mycoplasma Infection (walking pneumonia, atypical pneumonia)

Last Reviewed: October 2011

What is mycoplasma infection?

Mycoplasma infection is respiratory illness caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a microscopic organism related to bacteria.

Who gets mycoplasma infection?

Anyone can get the disease, but it most often affects older children and young adults.

When do mycoplasma infections occur?

Mycoplasma infections occur sporadically throughout the year. Widespread community outbreaks can also occur. Mycoplasma infection is most common in late summer and fall.

How is mycoplasma spread?

Mycoplasma is spread through contact with droplets from the nose and throat of infected people especially when they cough and sneeze. Transmission is thought to require prolonged close contact with an infected person. Spread in families, schools and institutions occurs slowly. The contagious period is probably fewer than 10 days and occasionally longer.

What are the symptoms of mycoplasma infection?

Typical symptoms include fever, cough, bronchitis, sore throat, headache and tiredness. A common result of mycoplasma infection is pneumonia (sometimes called "walking pneumonia" because it is usually mild and rarely requires hospitalization). Infections of the middle ear (otitis media) also can result. Symptoms may persist for a few days to more than a month.

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?

Symptoms generally begin two to three weeks after exposure, but can range from one to four weeks.

How is mycoplasma infection diagnosed?

Mycoplasma infection is usually diagnosed on the basis of typical symptoms and a chest x-ray. Blood tests may be done.

Does past infection with mycoplasma make a person immune?

Immunity after mycoplasma infection does occur, but is not lifelong. Second infections are known to occur, although they may be milder. The duration of immunity is unknown.

What is the treatment for mycoplasma infection?

Antibiotics such as erythromycin, clarithromycin or azithromycin are effective treatment. However, because mycoplasma infection usually resolves on its own, antibiotic treatment of mild symptoms is not always necessary.

What can be done to prevent the spread of mycoplasma?

At this time, there are no vaccines for the prevention of mycoplasma infection and there are no reliably effective measures for control. As with any respiratory disease, all people should practice hand hygiene and cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.