Mycoplasma Infections

Mycoplasma is a bacteria (or germ) that can infect different parts of your body. Which body part is affected--your lungs, skin, or urinary tract, depends on which type of mycloplasma bacteria is causing your infection.

All mycloplasma infections have one thing in common though. Unlike other bacteria, mycloplasma do not have cell walls. They are also very small compared to other bacteria. That's important because many antibiotics kill bacteria by weakening those walls. Since mycoplasma bacteria don't have them, some antibiotics, like penicillin, won't work against them.

There are about 200 types of mycoplasma bacteria, but most of them are harmless. The ones you may have to worry about are:

  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Mycoplasma genitalium
  • Mycoplasma hominis
  • Ureaplasma urealyticum
  • Ureaplasma parvum

Mycoplasma pneumoniae

This type causes lung infections. About a third of people who get infected come down with a mild form of pneumonia called "walking pneumonia." It is referred to as an atypical pneumonia because most people, especially children, will get "tracheobronchitis," a fancy name for a chest cold.

You can catch one of these infections when someone who is sick coughs or sneezes and sends droplets with the bacteria into the air.

If you're infected with Mycoplasma pneumoniae, you may get symptoms like:

To treat your infection, your doctor may suggest one of these types of antibiotics:

Mycoplasma genitalium

You get this if you have sex with someone who's infected. Some people don't have any symptoms.

If you're a woman, you may notice that you:

  • Have pain during sex
  • Bleed from the vagina after sex
  • Get a discharge from the vagina

If you're a man, the infection can cause:

  • Urethritis -- a swelling of the urethra, the tube that urine goes through as it leaves the body
  • Stinging or burning when you pee
  • Discharge from the penis

To find out if you're infected, your doctor may do a test called NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test) to look for the bacteria's genes. They will ask for a first morning urine (or semen from men) sample or take a swab from the vagina, cervix, or urethra.

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For treatment, you may need to take one of these types of antibiotics:

A second line of treatnent migt be with fluoroquinolones like moxifloxacin (Avelox).

Your partner may need to get treated, too.

There's a little bit of trial and error when you take these meds, because sometimes the bacteria don't respond to them. If the first drug doesn't work, your doctor can prescribe a different one.

You can help prevent Mycoplasma genitalium if you use a condom during sex.

Mycoplasma hominis

These bacteria live in the urinary tract and genitals of about half of all women and fewer men. But if you're in general good health, you don't have to worry. They rarely cause an infection. Women with a weakened immune system -- your body's defense against germs -- are most at risk.

You can sometimes pick up this infection during sex. The bacteria can also pass from a mother to their baby during childbirth.

If you're a woman, these bacteria may be linked to pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of your reproductive organs. They can also lead to problems if you're pregnant, such as:

Mycoplasma hominis can also cause a fever and infection in your newborn baby.

To find out if you have an infection caused by this type of bacteria, your doctor will test a sample of fluid from your vagina or urethra. If you do, you'll get treated with antibiotics such as one in the tetracycline family, like doxycycline.

To help keep this infection away, always use a condom during sex. And limit how many partners you have.

Ureaplasma urealyticum and Ureaplasma parvum

Most healthy women have these bacteria in their cervix or vagina, and a smaller number of men also have them in their urethra. Normally, they don't cause any problems.

Ureaplasma can spread during sex. If you're pregnant and you're infected, you can pass the bacteria to your baby in the womb or during childbirth.

Some symptoms women can get are:

  • It hurts when you pee
  • Belly pain
  • Pain, odor, or discharge from the vagina
  • Swelling at the opening of the urethra
  • Discharge from the urethra

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Men who are infected can get inflammation of the urethra, called urethritis.

During pregnancy, the bacteria can lead to infections in both the mother and the baby. Problems in newborn babies can include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Pneumonia
  • Bacteria in the blood, called septicemia

To diagnose a ureaplasma infection, your doctor can take a sample of fluid from:

Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection. Choices may include:

  • Macrolides such as azithromycin
  • Tetracyclines like doxycycline

A second line of treatment would be with fluoroquinolones like moxifloxacin

If you were infected while pregnant, your newborn baby may also need to get antibiotics.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on March 28, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines: Emerging Issues," "Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection: Antibiotic Treatment & Resistance," "Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection: Causes & Transmission," "Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection: Signs and Symptoms," "Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection: Treatment & Complications."

Columbia University: "Ureaplasma urealyticum."

Constantino, G. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 2009.

Couldwell, D. L. Infection and Drug Resistance, May 2015.

Georgiev, Vassil St. Infectious Diseases in Immunocompromised Hosts, 1997.

Long, S.S. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Disease, 2012.

Melbourne Sexual Health Centre: "Mycoplasma Genitalium."

National Health Service: "'New' sexually transmitted infection 'MG' may be widespread."

Nicolson, G. L. British Journal of Medical Practitioners, 2010.

Patarca-Montero, R. Medical Etiology, Assessment, and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue and Malaise, 2004.

Public Health Agency of Canada: "Mycoplasma Hominis," "Ureaplasma Urealyticum."

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UpToDate: "Mycoplasma hominis and Ureaplasma urealyticum infections."

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