Mycoplasma is bacterium that causes infections in different areas of your body including your respiratory, urinary and genital tracts. Mycoplasma infections cause mild symptoms.
Mycoplasma is a bacterium (singular form of bacteria) that causes infections. There are different types of mycoplasma that target specific locations in your body including your respiratory, urinary and genital tracts.
Mycoplasmas are unique because they don’t have cell walls. Most bacteria have cell walls, and some antibiotics attack cell walls to destroy the bacteria and make you feel better. Since mycoplasma don’t have cell walls, those antibiotics don’t work on them.
There are several types of mycoplasma that most commonly cause infections in humans. They include:
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Mycoplasma infections can affect anyone. Mycoplasma pneumoniae most commonly affects children between the ages of 5 and 9. Outbreaks are also frequent in group environments like residence halls or nursing homes where bacteria can easily spread from person to person. Mycoplasma spread through close contact. Mycoplasma genitalium and mycoplasma hominis spread through sexual contact.
Mycoplasma infections are common, especially mycoplasma pneumoniae. There are an estimated 2 million cases of mycoplasma pneumoniae infections each year in the U.S. This bacterium is responsible for up to 20% of all community-acquired pneumonia. Infections are most common in the summer and fall.
Symptoms of mycoplasma pneumoniae infections can last for just a few days or up to a month and may appear as long as two weeks after exposure to the bacteria. The most common symptoms of mycoplasma pneumoniae infections include:
Many cases of mycoplasma lead to mild cases of bronchitis or pneumonia that rarely lead to hospitalization.
Infections with other types of mycoplasma target sexual and reproductive organs and cause symptoms similar to a sexually transmitted infection including:
Mycoplasma is a contagious bacteria. Small droplets that spread through the air after a person infected with mycoplasma pneumoniae sneezes or coughs cause a mycoplasma infection. Some types of mycoplasma also spread through sexual contact.
Yes, mycoplasma is contagious. Mycoplasma pneumoniae easily spreads from an infected person to others nearby from droplets that become airborne after a cough or sneeze while other mycoplasma spread through sexual contact. Respiratory mycoplasma infections are contagious for an average of 10 days and often spread in schools or places where people are in close contact with others.
Your healthcare provider will diagnose a mycoplasma infection after learning about your symptoms and the history of your illness. You may need a chest X-ray to confirm a mycoplasma pneumoniae infection. Other tests may include:
Confirming the type of infection allows your provider to offer treatment to eliminate the bacteria from your body, but is often not necessary for diagnosing standard respiratory mycoplasma infections.
While many antibiotics are ineffective at destroying mycoplasma bacteria, the macrolide class of antibiotics is effective at eliminating the bacteria from your body when taken as directed. These include:
You can take over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve your symptoms if you’re congested or have a cough.
Some cases of mycoplasma infections can resolve on their own, so treatment isn’t always necessary, especially if you have very mild symptoms. Talk to your provider if you think you have an infection to learn about your best treatment options.
After you begin antibiotics, your symptoms will often decrease after two to three days but respiratory infections may take weeks to completely resolve. Contact your healthcare provider if you still feel sick or have symptoms after you’ve completed your antibiotics.
There's no vaccine to prevent mycoplasma infections, and the bacteria is highly contagious. You can take steps to protect yourself and others from the bacteria by:
Infections caused by mycoplasma bacteria vary based on the type and location of the infection in your body.
Your healthcare provider may test for the type of bacteria that caused your infection. Treatment should help you start to feel better after a few days. Some symptoms may persist after you finish treatment but should go away in a few weeks.
With treatment of antibiotics, your symptoms should start to fade after a couple of days. If you have mycoplasma pneumoniae, your cough could last a few weeks after you’ve finished antibiotics.
If you experience symptoms like cough, fever, painful urination or genital discharge, visit your healthcare provider for treatment.
If you have difficulty breathing or have a high fever that lasts more than a couple of days, go to your nearest emergency room immediately.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Mycoplasma bacteria easily spread, so take steps to stop the spread by practicing good hygiene and safe sex. If you have symptoms of an infection, visit your healthcare provider. You should start to feel better after a few days of treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/27/2022.
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