Mycoplasma Pneumoniae: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Patricia Brandler
Learn about the bacterial lung infection caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, including risks, symptoms and treatment. When you've finished reading the material, take the short quiz at the end of the lesson to see how well you retain the information.

What is Mycoplasma Pneumoniae?

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs where the air sacs fill with fluid or pus. Pus is actually a group of dead white blood cells that accumulate at the site of infections as a result of our body's immune response. If you need the visual, think about what comes out of a pimple when you squeeze it. Now, imagine that pus in your lungs and you'll understand how much harder it is to rid oneself of that type of infection.

Numerous microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause lung infections. Mycoplasma pneumoniae, or M. pneumoniae, is considered an atypical bacterium because it doesn't have a cell wall. It does not grow well in culture and can be difficult to diagnose. If you have ever heard the term walking pneumonia, then you have heard about M. pneumoniae.

Pneumonias that develop in people outside a healthcare facility are called community-acquired infections. In the United States, one to ten out of every 50 cases of community-acquired pneumonia are caused by M. pneumoniae.


M. pneumoniae is usually a mild illness seen most often in children and young adults. Its symptoms can be similar to those of the common chest cold and include chest pain, cough, chills and fever. A headache and sore throat may also be present. These symptoms resemble many viral illnesses classified as common colds. Less common symptoms include ear and eye pain, a lump in the neck, muscle aches, rapid breathing and rash. Symptoms can last for one to three weeks; serious infections can cause pneumonia and may require hospitalization.

So, where did the term 'common' come from? And, why is it called a 'cold'? Well, as residents of the United States, we get an average of 2-4 colds a year, for a total of one billion colds annually. 'Cold' is an old term used before much was known about viruses, and we believed that exposure to cold weather caused the condition. In reality, being cooped up during the winter allows colds to spread from person to person.


M.pneumoniae spreads via airborne droplets, which can cause outbreaks in crowded environments. Airborne droplets occur when a person coughs or sneezes. If you're out in the woods hiking, there is little chance of airborne droplets spreading. But, when larger groups of individuals are in close person-to-person contact, transmission occurs easily.

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