A mycoplasma infection is contamination with the organism called mycoplasma pneumoniae, and these are tiny organisms that are neither bacteria nor viruses. They have been thought both over time, but now they are considered are in a class of their own. When people have a mycoplasma infection, this condition normally will mostly affect the respiratory tract, though it begins very much like a common cold. When people discuss walking pneumonia, they often mean infection with mycoplasma pneumoniae.
Early signs of a mycoplasma infection are quite similar to colds and viruses. People may have sore throats, stuffy noses, and fever. Instead of these symptoms improving as they usually would within about ten days of the start of a cold, they tend to get worse. Fever can continue, some people develop ear infections, especially kids, and pneumonia can develop. Usually this form of pneumonia is not severe enough to keep people bed-ridden as other forms do, so it is called a “walking” form. People may be up and about and not realize they’ve developed pneumonia.
It’s fairly easy to get a mycoplasma infection, and there does seem some pattern in when they occur. Usually infection is through exposure to the organism as contained within nasal or respiratory secretions. So for instance, a person with a mycoplasma infection who sneezes or coughs around an uninfected person could result in inhalation of droplets that contain mycoplasma organisms. These may begin to create illness within about two to three weeks after initial exposure.
Patterns regarding these infections tend to show they occur about every four to eight years in most communities, and they are most likely to happen during summer or fall. Usually, communities will undergo a widespread outbreak within this time interval, and those most affected are children and young adults. It’s probably valuable to note that late summer and early fall are generally times when kids head back to school, and communal attendance in class may spur a mycoplasma infection for a whole school or whole college. Parents might also be more likely at the beginning of the school year to ignore or dismiss infections that seem like the common cold and send kids to school sick, prompting greater spread of the illness to others.
Though a mycoplasma infection may resolve without treatment, certain drugs might be used to address it including basic antibiotics like erythromycin or its derivatives. It’s known that some people may then become immune to future infections, but it’s hard to know how long this immunity lasts. Common treatment to get rid of symptoms of the infection in addition to antibiotics may include lots of rest and lots of fluids.