Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection - including symptoms, treatment and prevention

Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection is caused by the Mycoplasma pneumoniae (M. pneumoniae). M. pneumoniae are very small bacteria with no cell walls which can cause pneumonia in humans.

How Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection is spread

Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection is spread when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes small droplets containing infectious agents into the air. The droplets in the air may be breathed in by those nearby. Infection may be spread by contact with hands, tissues and other articles soiled by infected nose and throat discharges. Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection is also spread by direct contact with the infected person.

Signs and symptoms of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection

M. pneumoniae occurs worldwide and is a common cause of mild pneumonia (lung infection or inflammation), bronchitis and sore throat. It causes 15 to 50% of cases of pneumonia in adults and an even higher percentage in school aged children. Infection is most common in people aged between 5 and 20 years, but can occur at any age.

Symptoms develop over 1 to 3 weeks and include:

  • fever
  • dry cough
  • headache
  • chills
  • heavy sweating
  • scratchy sore throat
  • sore trachea (the large airway between the mouth and the lungs)
  • sore chest
  • malaise (feeling of being unwell).

Mycoplasma pneumonia usually resolves without any serious complications, although they may occur. Cough and weakness may persist for more than 1 month.

Diagnosis of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection

Diagnosis is usually made by blood tests and a chest x-ray.

Incubation period

(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)

2 to 3 weeks.

Infectious period

(time during which an infected person can infect others)

Probably less than 20 days.

Treatment for Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection

Effective antibiotic treatment is available, though most people recover completely without it. Antibiotics may speed recovery, but appear not to reduce the period for which a person is able to transmit infection.

Prevention of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection

  • Exclusion from childcare, preschool, school or work is not necessary
  • no vaccine is currently available
  • cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue or your arm, not with your hand. Drop used tissues immediately into a rubbish bin, then wash your hands
  • follow good hand washing procedures.

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