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Alternative Names
Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections, primary atypical pneumonia

The organism Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a bacteria that causes infections in different parts of the body, including the respiratory system, central nervous system, and heart.

What is going on in the body?
Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a very contagious organism found only in humans. Infection occurs throughout the world in every season. It is spread through contact with respiratory secretions, for example, when a person infected by it coughs or sneezes.

What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?
Young children often have no symptoms. Older children and adults often get ear infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia. The most common symptoms of infection are:

About 1 in 10 children get a rash along with pneumonia. Children at risk to develop severe pneumonia may have:
  • immune disorders, which are problems in the body's natural defence system and an inability to protect itself from infectious organisms
  • heart or lung disease
Very rarely, meningitis, which is an inflammation and infection of the brain, encephalitis, which is an inflammation and infection of the brain, or myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart, can occur in healthy people infected by the organism.

What are the causes and risks of the infection?
The organism spreads through respiratory secretions. Wiping the runny nose of an infected child or breathing in contaminated droplets from coughs and sneezes may pass it on.

What can be done to prevent the infection?
Little can be done to prevent this infection. A person at risk for more serious disease due to another disorder may be given preventive antibiotics if he or she has been in very close contact with someone who is infected, for example, by living in the same house.

How is the infection diagnosed?
A physical examination and history of symptoms are usually used to diagnose infection. Mycoplasma is an infectious organism that can grow in special media in a laboratory. It can be cultured with a sample of bodily fluid but it is a difficult process that takes 1 to 3 weeks. Sometimes testing a person's blood for antibodies to the organism helps with the diagnosis. A chest X-ray will also help with the diagnosis.

What are the risks to others?
People who have this infection can spread it to others.

What are the treatments for the infection?
Erythromycin or certain other antibiotics such as doxycycline or clarithromycin can be used to treat the infection.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Side effects depend on the treatment chosen. The most common side effects of erythromycin are: Author: Danielle Zerr, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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