What is mycoplasma?
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.
What are the different types of mycoplasma infections?
There are several types of mycoplasma that most commonly cause infections in humans. They include:
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae: This type of mycoplasma causes lung infections known as “walking pneumonia” because symptoms appear as a chest cold or mild pneumonia that doesn’t require hospitalization.
- Mycoplasma genitalium: This mycoplasma lives in your reproductive organs and can be spread through sex. It can be present without symptoms of infection. Most symptoms are similar to those of a sexually transmitted infection with pain during sex and/or discharge from your vagina or penis.
- Mycoplasma hominis: These bacteria live in your urinary tract and genitals. It also causes infection in people with weakened immune systems. The infection can pass from parent to child during childbirth, particularly in premature babies.
Who does mycoplasma affect?
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.
How common is mycoplasma?
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 and Causes
What are the symptoms of mycoplasma infections?
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:
- Dry cough.
- Sore throat.
Many cases of mycoplasma lead to mild cases of bronchitis or pneumonia that rarely lead to hospitalization.
Urinary and genital infections
Infections with other types of mycoplasma target sexual and reproductive organs and cause symptoms similar to a sexually transmitted infection including:
- Pain during sex.
- Pain during urination (urinary tract infections).
- Discharge from your penis or vagina.
- Swelling of your urethra (urethritis).
- Bleeding from your vagina after sex.
What causes mycoplasma infections?
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.
Is mycoplasma contagious?
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.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is mycoplasma diagnosed?
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:
- Culture test: This test looks for growth of mycoplasma from tissue or blood samples. It isn’t normally used for respiratory infections but can help diagnose sexually transmitted mycoplasma infections.
- Serology test: This test looks at a sample of your blood for antibodies to see if your immune system is fighting a mycoplasma infection.
- PCR test (polymerase chain reaction test): A swab collects fluid, often from your nose or throat, to detect genetic material from mycoplasma. This isn't normally used for standard mycoplasma.
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.
Management and Treatment
How is mycoplasma treated?
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.
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
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.
How can I prevent a mycoplasma infection?
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:
- Practicing good hygiene and washing your hands often with soap and water.
- Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
- Staying home if you’re sick or wearing a mask to prevent it from spreading.
- Taking doctor-prescribed antibiotics as instructed.
- Practicing safe sex by talking about any genital symptoms, limiting the number of partners you have and using a condom.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a mycoplasma infection?
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.
How long does a mycoplasma infection last?
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.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
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.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
- When and how long should I take the antibiotics you prescribed?
- How do I prevent the bacteria from spreading in my household?
- Can I take over-the-counter medicine to alleviate my symptoms?
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.
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