‘Mycoplasma pneumoniae’ is a bacterium that lacks a cell wall, and is known to cause a type of pneumonia. This particular type of pneumonia is termed as mycoplasma pneumonia or walking pneumonia.
Mycoplasma is actually a genus of bacteria, and the members of this genus are characterized by the absence of a cell wall. There are several species of bacteria that belong to this genus, of which the most noteworthy species are Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Mycoplasma genitalium, and both are pathogenic bacteria. M. pneumoniae is known for causing walking or atypical pneumonia and bronchitis, while M. genitalium can be associated with pelvic inflammatory disease. However, the most common mycoplasma infection is the respiratory infection that is known as walking pneumonia.
Causes and Risk Factors
It is caused by the bacteria, Mycoplasma pneumoniae. This bacterial infection may not produce symptoms immediately. The affected person may not experience any discomfort for days, and hence, continues to carry out his or her daily activities normally. This infection is usually characterized by an incubation period of 7 to 21 days. However, the period can vary significantly, depending on factors like the overall health of the individual. Even the mode of transmission can have an impact on the incubation period.
Generally, the infection spreads through close contact with the mucus or phlegm of the infected individual. In general, the infection is found to be more common in toddlers and older school going children. On entering the body, the bacteria attach to the epithelial cells of the respiratory tract, and cause an infection or pneumonia. The infection can sometimes cause bronchitis as well. Generally, it exhibits a pattern by occurring every four to eight years, especially during summer and fall.
Signs and Symptoms
The early symptoms of the infection closely resemble those produced by the common cold or flu. The typical symptoms of this bacterial infection are, a sore throat, fever, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, bronchitis, and weakness or tiredness. The affected person can also have muscle pain, minor chest pain, and cough. Rarely, this infection can cause nausea and diarrhea.
The symptoms can last for a few days to more than a month. Gradually, the infection can lead to pneumonia, which however is mild. This is the reason why it is called walking pneumonia. It has been found that around 10% of the affected individuals can eventually develop pneumonia due to this bacterial infection. In addition to these, it has been found to cause ear infections in children.
The most accurate diagnostic test for detecting this infection is an X-ray of the chest. Additionally, physicians can examine a sample of the phlegm of the infected individual, and perform a blood test to look for mycoplasma antibodies. Many times, the infection clears up on its own. But antibiotics can be required to treat this condition, if the symptoms persist for several days.
The most common antibiotics used for the treatment of mycoplasma infection are, erythromycin, azithromycin, or clarithromycin. The bacteria of the genus, Mycoplasma do not contain cell walls, and this is the reason why drugs of the penicillin group are not very effective in treating this infection, as they work by inhibiting the synthesis of bacterial cell wall.
As this infection is usually not very serious in nature, it can subside on its own. But if the symptoms last for several days, it is advisable to seek medical attention. As mentioned already, the symptoms of this condition are quite similar to those produced by a cold. Therefore, if cold or flu-like symptoms persist for several days, consider to visit your physician to ensure a proper diagnosis of the condition.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.