> Table of Contents > Pneumonia, Mycoplasma
Pneumonia, Mycoplasma
Jonathan D. Reves, DO
Robert M. Hasty, DO, FACOI, FACP
image BASICS
  • Bronchopulmonary infection caused by the Mycoplasma species, Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Smallest free-living organism; fastidious and slowgrowing; first isolated in cattle in 1898
  • Most frequently affects children/young adults but can also occur in the elderly; often causes epidemics in close communities
  • Infection may be asymptomatic, most often confined to the upper respiratory tract; however, may progress to pneumonia (5-10%).
  • Course is usually acute with an incubation period of 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Synonym(s): primary atypical pneumonia (PAP); Eaton agent pneumonia; cold agglutinin-positive pneumonia; walking pneumonia
Geriatric Considerations
Uncommonly isolated as a single agent in elderly patients
Pediatric Considerations
  • Unusual in infants and children <5 years; (pneumonia <5 years is more commonly viral)
  • Increased incidence of asthma exacerbation in older children
  • All infants 3 to 6 months with suspected bacterial pneumonia should be hospitalized.
  • Estimated 1 million cases per year in the United States
  • Responsible for 20% of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) requiring hospitalizations annually
  • Infection occurs most frequently in fall/winter seasons but may develop year round.
  • Predominant sex: male = female
  • Predominant age group affected: 5 to 20 years
    • May occur at any age
    • Rare in children <5 years of age
  • Responsible for 15-20% of all cases of CAP yearly
    • Most common cause of pneumonia in school children and young adults who do not have a chronic underlying condition
  • M. pneumoniae is a short-rod mucosal pathogen, which lacks a cell wall and thus not visible on Gram stain.
  • Can grow under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions
  • Highly contagious, M. pneumoniae is transmitted by contact and aerosols.
  • Pathogenicity linked to its filamentous tips, which adhere selectively to respiratory epithelial cell membrane proteins with production of H2O2 and superoxide radicals, damaging cilia
  • Many pathogenic features of infection are believed to be immune-mediated, not directly induced.
  • Decreased ciliary movement produces prolonged paroxysmal, hacking cough.
  • Immunocompromised state (e.g., HIV, transplant recipients, chemotherapy)
  • Smoking
  • Close community living (e.g., military bases, prisons, hospitals, fraternity houses, schools, household contacts)
Consider droplet isolation of active cases.
  • Asthma exacerbations as a result of proinflammatory cytokine release
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Patients generally appear nontoxic.
  • Hacking/pertussis-like cough may be present along with fever and lassitude.
  • Normal lung findings with early infection, but rhonchi, rales, and/or wheezes may develop several days later (1)[A].
  • Mild pharyngeal injection without exudates
  • Minimal/no cervical adenopathy
  • Erythematous tympanic membranes or bullous myringitis in patients >2 years of age is an uncommon but unique sign.
  • Some patients may develop a pleural friction rub.
  • Various exanthems, including erythema multiforme and Stevens-Johnson syndrome
  • Viral/bacterial/fungal pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Other atypical pneumonias, including Chlamydia pneumoniae, Chlamydophila psittaci, Coxiella burnetii (Q fever), Francisella tularensis (tularemia), Pneumocystis jiroveci, Legionella pneumophila
  • Microbial diagnosis is uncommon in outpatients as empiric treatment usually successful.
  • PCR is the diagnostic test of choice, when available.
  • No clinical or radiographical findings can differentiate between M. pneumoniae and other atypical pneumonia pathogens (Chlamydia/Legionella).
Initial Tests (lab, imaging)
  • WBC count may be normal or elevated.
  • Hemolytic anemia has been described but is rare.
  • Elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) may be present but is nonspecific.
  • When available, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for M. pneumoniae DNA in respiratory secretions, CSF, and tissue samples may be the most sensitive and specific
  • CXR shows reticulonodular pattern with patchy areas of lower lobe consolidation, although this is not specific. Small pleural effusion may be present in 10-15% cases.
Follow-Up Tests & Special Considerations
  • Sputum Gram stains are not helpful because M. pneumoniae lacks a cell wall and cannot be stained.
  • M. pneumoniae is difficult to culture and requires 7 to 21 days to grow; culturing is successful in 40-90% of cases but does not provide information to guide treatment, thus infrequently performed.
  • Complement fixation serologic assay shows 4-fold rise in IgM antibody titer at 2 to 4 weeks after symptom onset; this is an older technique.
  • Positive cold agglutinins (titer of ≥1:128 or rising 4-fold) in 50% of infections but can take 1 to 2 weeks to develop; not sensitive/specific; not routinely recommended
  • CT of chest may show a combination of patchy tree-in-bud opacities with segmental ground glass opacities.
  • Avoid sick contacts.
  • Treatment is usually empiric and must be comprehensive to cover all likely pathogens in the context of the clinical setting.
  • Calculation of pneumonia severity score (CAP score: www.mdcalc.com/psi-port-score-pneumonia-severity-index-adult-cap) may be helpful in determining inpatient versus outpatient treatment.
Pregnancy Considerations
  • Azithromycin: pregnancy Category B (preferred treatment)
  • Clarithromycin, levofloxacin, and moxifloxacin: pregnancy Category C
  • Doxycycline: pregnancy Category D
First Line
  • Azithromycin
    • <3 months of age: not established
    • >3 months of age: day 1, 10 mg/kg PO × 1 (not to exceed 500 mg); days 2 to 5: 5 mg/kg PO daily (not to exceed 250 mg/day)
    • P.813

    • Adults: 500 mg PO × 1 followed by 250 mg PO daily for 4 days (5)[A]
  • Clarithromycin
    • Children <6 months of age: not established
    • Patients >6 months of age: 15 mg/kg/day PO divided q12h for 10 to 14 days
    • Adults: 250 to 500 mg PO BID for 10 to 14 days
  • Erythromycin
    • Children: 20 to 50 mg/kg/day (base) PO divided q6-8h for 10 to 14 days
    • Adults: 500 mg (base) PO q6h for 10 to 14 days (5)[A],(6)[B]
  • Doxycycline
    • Children <8 years of age: not recommended
    • Children >8 years of age (≤45 kg): 2 to 4 mg/kg/day up to 200 mg/day PO divided BID for 10 to 14 days
    • Children >8 years of age (≥45 kg): Refer to adult dosing.
    • Adults: 100 mg PO BID for 7 to 14 days (5)[A],(6)[B]
    • Useful in macrolide-resistant strains of M. pneumoniae.
Second Line
  • Levofloxacin
    • Children <18 years of age: not recommended
    • Adults: 500 mg PO daily for 7 to 10 days (5)[A]
  • Moxifloxacin
    • Children <18 years of age: not recommended
    • Adults: 400 mg/day PO for 7 to 10 days
  • Levofloxacin and moxifloxacin show good activity against M. pneumoniae. Consider use with comorbid conditions and other pneumonia pathogens; also useful if macrolide resistance is suspected.
  • Albuterol inhaler: 2 puffs q4-6h as needed for wheezing
  • Dexamethasone may downregulate cytokine release (7)[B].
  • Acetaminophen/ibuprofen as needed for fever
  • Up to 10.9% of hospitalized patients may require mechanical ventilation.
  • Plasmapheresis in cases of severe hemolytic anemia.
Admission Criteria/Initial Stabilization
  • CAP score risk class IV/V
  • Advanced age with comorbidities
  • Complicating neoplastic disease
  • Significant cerebrovascular, cardiac, renal, liver, or GI symptoms
  • Altered mental status
  • Inability to maintain oxygen saturation
  • Tachycardia/tachypnea
  • Hypotension
  • Neurologic symptoms
  • Signs of Stevens-Johnson syndrome
  • Significant hemolysis (autoimmune hemolytic anemia, cold agglutinin disease)
Discharge Criteria
  • Change from IV to PO antibiotic may be made when:
    • Respiratory distress and hypoxia have resolved.
    • Patients are tolerating oral hydration.
    • No significant complications are present.
  • Generally, no need for 24-hour observation on PO antibiotics prior to discharge.
  • Clearing of condition on CXR should be documented in patients >50 years of age (4)[A].
  • In smokers, document a clear CXR in 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Worsening symptoms/development of rash or meningeal/neurologic signs should prompt immediate presentation to medical attention.
  • Antibiotic prophylaxis for exposed contacts is not routinely recommended.
  • For household contacts who may be predisposed to severe mycoplasmal infection, macrolide or doxycycline prophylaxis should be used.
  • No special diet considerations
  • Ensure adequate hydration.
  • Smoking cessation
  • Contact and droplet precautions
  • Adequate handwashing techniques
  • Symptoms usually resolve in 2 weeks.
  • Some constitutional symptoms may persist for several weeks.
  • With correct therapy, even most severe cases can expect complete recovery.
1. Wang K, Gill P, Perera R, et al. Clinical symptoms and signs for the diagnosis of Mycoplasma pneumoniae in children and adolescents with community-acquired pneumonia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(10):CD009175.
2. Meyer Sauteur PM, Jacobs BC, Spuesens EB, et al. Antibody responses to Mycoplasma pneumoniae: role in pathogenesis and diagnosis of encephalitis. PLoS Pathog. 2014;10(6):e1003983.
3. Mulholland S, Gavranich JB, Gillies MB, et al. Antibiotics for community-acquired lower respiratory tract infections secondary to Mycoplasma pneumoniae in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(9):CD004875.
4. Bradley JS, Byington CL, Shah SS, et al. The management of community-acquired pneumonia in infants and children older than 3 months of age: clinical practice guidelines by the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society and the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2011;53(7):e25-e76.
5. Mandell LA, Wunderink RG, Anzueto A, et al. Infectious Diseases Society of America/American Thoracic Society consensus guidelines on the management of community-acquired pneumonia in adults. Clin Infect Dis. 2007; (44 Suppl 2):S27-S72.
6. Spindler C, Strålin K, Eriksson L, et al. Swedish guidelines on the management of community-acquired pneumonia in immunocompetent adults—Swedish Society of Infectious Diseases 2012. Scand J Infect Dis. 2012;44(12):885-902.
7. Remmelts HHE, Meijvis SCA, Biesma DH, et al. Dexamethasone downregulates the systemic cytokine response in patients with community-acquired pneumonia. Clin Vaccine Immunol. 2012;19(9):1532-1538.
Additional Reading
  • Atkinson TP, Balish MF, Waites KB. Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, pathogenesis and laboratory detection of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections. FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2008;32(6):956-973.
  • Carbonara S, Monno L, Longo B, et al. Community-acquired pneumonia. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2009;15(3):261-273.
  • Chien S, Wells TG, Blumer JL, et al. Levofloxacin pharmacokinetics in children. J Clin Pharmacol. 2005;45(2):153-160.
  • Eliakim-Raz N, Robenshtok E, Shefet D, et al. Empiric antibiotic coverage of atypical pathogens for community-acquired pneumonia in hospitalized adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(9): CD004418.
  • Kashyap S, Sarkar M. Mycoplasma pneumonia: clinical features and management. Lung India. 2010;27(2):75-85.
  • Torres A, Blasi F, Peetermans WE, et al. The aetiology and antibiotic management of community-acquired pneumonia in adults in Europe: a literature review. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2014;33(7):1065-1079.
J15.7 Pneumonia due to Mycoplasma pneumoniae
Clinical Pearls
  • Most common atypical respiratory pathogens include M. pneumoniae, C. pneumoniae, and L. pneumophila.
  • Atypical pneumonia is typically a clinical diagnosis; if labs are indicated, PCR is the mainstay of diagnosis with serology if PCR is not available.
  • Watch closely for complicating symptoms that could indicate worsening disease.
  • Atypical pneumonia with M. pneumoniae is typically self-limiting, difficult to identify, and usually responds to empiric treatment.
  • Outbreaks of M. pneumoniae can be seen in close communities of young people.
  • Onset of infection is typically have a gradual onset of symptoms, normal WBC, and less respiratory distress.