Mycoplasma Is An Overlooked Lyme Co-Infection

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February 23, 2011

Getting Lyme

Mycoplasma infections are commonly found in people with Lyme Disease. But most doctors don’t know to test for them.

These are the smallest organisms that can live independently. Of the over 100 known species, more than a dozen are found in humans. Many of them cause disease. They don’t have a cell wall or cell nucleus, usually act like parasites within or outside host cells, and can take on different shapes. This versatility allows them to hide from the immune system and affect it in many ways. Because of these features, they are hard to diagnose and treat.

Mycoplasma Pneumoniae

The most common specie typically causes respiratory infections like pneumonia, bronchitis, pharyngitis, and asthma. But it’s a stealth pathogen that can also cause non-respiratory diseases affecting the nervous system, blood, joints, skin, heart, liver, and pancreas.

Estimates of Mycoplasma pneumoniae cases each year in the United States are typically as high as two million. The disease tends to be cyclical both within a given year and across a decade. Most cases appear in the late summer and early fall with sharp spikes every three to five years. The disease spreads quickly from person to person by tiny droplets expelled during a cough.

Other Mycoplasma Species

The other pathogenic species most typically found in humans are:

  • M. fermentans
  • M. genitalium
  • M. hominis
  • M. pirum
  • M. salivarium
  • Ureaplasma urealyticum
  • Ureaplasma parvum

Symptoms

Mycoplasma pneumoniae likes to live on the surface cells (mucosa) of the respiratory tract and can cause inflammation of most structures there. Bronchitis is most common. But it can also cause pneumonia/pneumonitis, laryngitis, and myringitis (inflammation of the eardrum). It’s usually the cause of “walking pneumonia.” It can cause “atypical” pneumonia – flulike symptoms such as fever, nonproductive cough, generalized aches and pains, and nasal congestion. Typical pneumonia usually involves a productive cough and chest pain close to the site of the pneumonia.

The bacterium can also cause neurological problems such as inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), aseptic meningitis, confusion, acute psychosis secondary to encephalitis, double vision and decreased vision, and temporary paralysis, mainly in the face.

When the organism infects the skin, it creates non-specific rashes. It can also cause eye infection. Muscle and joint aches occur in about 14% of people with this infection and can last beyond the primary infection.

Most of the other Mycoplasmas listed above are curious in that they are both normal and pathologic in the urinary tract. A healthy person may have these microorganisms in the bladder or urethra and only in certain cases do they cause disease. These species can also cause disease in the brain, joints, and female reproductive tissues.

Specific infections that these other species can cause are:

  • Infectious arthritis/septic arthritis
  • Blood and lung infection in newborns (neonatal bacteremia/pneumonia)
  • Inflammation of the covering of the brain in newborns (neonatal meningitis)
  • Disorders of the eye and ear
  • Periodontal disease and gingivitis
  • Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Inflammation of the uterus (endometritis or chorioamnionitis) in pregnant and non-pregnant women
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Kidney infection (pyelonephritis)
  • Surgical wound infections
  • Inflammation of the urethra, which carries urine from the bladder to outside the body (urethritis)

The symptoms of these species can vary widely. Each of them causes symptoms specific of the disease, not the Mycoplasma. In other words, doctors may look for Mycoplasmas to explain pyelonephritis or septic arthritis among other, typical pathogens. Since they can cause particularly severe disease in newborns, doctors do look for the presence of these microorganisms in pregnant mothers and infants.

Testing

Since these organisms can be present without causing disease, diagnosis is challenging. Often doctors make the diagnosis by eliminating other causes (for example, Mycoplasma is the only bug they can find in a sick person) or antibiotic treatment is broad enough to treat it along with other identified infectious microorganisms.

Testing for Mycoplasmas is problematic for several reasons:

  1. Growing this organism in a Petri dish (bacterial culture) requires special conditions and takes weeks, making microbiology culture a poor diagnostic tool.
  2. Blood tests such as an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), white blood cell count, and cold agglutinin titer are elevated when the disease is present. However, none of these tests are specific for the microorganism.
  3. One useful test is the rapid diagnostic enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, which uses a specific antibody to detect its presence in a throat swab. These tests, available in some doctor’s offices, take about ten minutes and provide reliable results but are very expensive.
  4. The PCR test (Polymerase Chain Reaction) is considered the most reliable blood test for Mycoplasma, but will not reveal the bacteria if it’s living instead in other body fluids and tissues. PCR tests are usually species-specific, expensive, and performed only by specialty laboratories.

Treatment

Common antibiotics such as Doxycycline, Azithromycin, Clarithromycin, Ciiprofloxacin, and Tetracycline are usually used to treat this infection, typically requiring two to three weeks treatment, although long-term therapy may be needed in cases of chronic illness (like Lyme disease). Unfortunately, reports have emerged, especially in Asia, showing that Mycoplasma pneumoniae may be developing resistance to macrolides such as Azithromycin and Clarithromycin.

Natural plant antibiotics like olive leaf extract, Neem, and uva ursi are also used. In addition, supplements are usually required to rebuild and support the immune system.

The same goes for the infections of the urinary tract or genitals, which are typically treated with a weeklong course of Tetracycline. Researchers have found, however, that half the cases of Mycoplasma urinary tract infection are caused by bugs resistant to Tetracycline. Clindamycin may be used in instances of Tetracycline resistance, but it needs to be given for a longer time and possibly higher doses than standard. If Ureaplasma urealyticum and Ureaplasma parvum are suspected or diagnosed, Erythromycin or Tetracycline is usually the first line therapy.

Chronic Disease Association

Various Mycoplasmas have been found associated with chronic diseases such as Lyme Disease, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, Gulf War Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, AIDS, ALS, and some cancers.

In the case of Lyme, most doctors don’t know to test for it. Many who do test find that a large percentage of their Lyme patients have it. Added to the other co-infections that many Lyme patients have, this further complicates treatment, although many of the antibiotics used to treat Lyme and other co-infections also work to kill Mycoplasmas.

If you search online for references to Mycoplasma, you’re sure to run across the name of Dr. Garth Nicolson, who’s done extensive research on this microorganism. Find more about Dr. Nicolson’s work and publications at http://www.immed.org.

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24 Responses to “Mycoplasma Is An Overlooked Lyme Co-Infection”

  1. Melissa K. Says:

    I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in June after 9 months of numb hands, pain in hands and feet and muscle pains/spams that lasted for days. I just found out today I have Lyme disease with mp. Is there a list of Lymes specialists in various areas of the country? My doc is sending me to a specialist in Florida. I live in Illinois. I also just started an internship at a hospital. Is mp contagious?

    Reply

    • Pam Dodd Says:

      Mycoplasma pneumoniae is contagious, although many people with it don’t have pneumonia symptoms; mp can affect other parts of the body as well. Many people with Lyme also have mp (I’m one of them). IMO (I’m not a doctor) you don’t need to see a specialist out of state as there are competent Lyme doctors in Illinois. I’m sending you info on how to find them. Thanks for asking, Melissa.

      Reply

  2. Raven Says:

    I was treated for M. Pneumoniae and well as Chlamydia Pneumoniae–Lyme also. This group is all volunteer non-profit staffed by patients and was a big help to me. The multiple antibiotic protocols are necessary to kill these bugs in all stages of their life forms or you are wasting your time and will never recover. http://www.cpnhelp.org

    Reply

  3. jan Says:

    Very interesting post. I would suggest as a possible treatment try Colioid silver. There are many posts via the internet about this product treating and improving health. Anecdotally many of the testimonals are impressive.

    Reply

    • Pam Dodd Says:

      Thanks for commenting, Jan. We don’t support any specific treatments on this website, but I’m glad to pass on your link. FYI – There is also info on the Internet about the dangers of using Colloidal Silver. As always, Buyer Beware. Do your homework if you’re considering trying it.

      Reply

  4. Amber Le Says:

    Hi there! I had a western blot done about a month ago and tested positive for a high myalgia titer- that was the only band though…could this be the same as Mycoplasma?

    Nope, I take it back…It was Mycoplasma Pneu – that I tested High for. I have had a chronic sore throat and swollen glands for over a month now…I am being treated for Lymes though. Taking 400 mg of doxy every day. Should this take care of the Mycoplasma Pneu? It’s strange because that band showed positive in my first WB but had another one done a week later from Igenex and it showed Negative for that very same band. So confused! I also have been on the Doxy for a month and have not had a single herx! Headaches (like someone is stabbing me the head with an ice-pick) problems with my kidneys/bladder, muscle pain and joint aches are my biggest complaints! Oh, and not to mention, a rash on my hand that appeared out of nowhere in May and not a single doctor (and 1 dermatologist) can tell me what it is!

    Reply

    • Pam Dodd Says:

      Mycoplasma pneumonia is as different disease from Lyme, Amber. It doesn’t get tested for on the Western Blot. Many people with Lyme also have M. Pneumoniae. Unfortunately it isn’t treated with Doxycycline. Your current complaints could be a herx, which is usually a worsening of symptoms you already had. Thanks for asking.

      Reply

  5. Becky Says:

    I’m sorry you feel that way. I have had the most success with non-allopathic remedies.

    Reply

    • Pam Dodd Says:

      To each her own, Becky. So glad they’re working for you.

      Reply

      • jamie123456 Says:

        Pam,

        Can you please recommend a good lyme disease doctor to me in the Manhattan, New York area. I really feel like I might have this disease and would so appreciate the help.

        thanks
        Jamie

      • Pam Dodd Says:

        NYC Lyme info coming up, Jamie. Thanks for asking.

    • HC Says:

      Becky, It would be great if you would share your all natural remedies with the rest of us. Or at least tell us where you found out about it. Thx.

      Reply

  6. Becky Says:

    I have had Chronic Lyme for 16 years. I was diagnosed with mycoplasma as well as some other things through a live cell analysis. It was recommended to do a 4-month regimen of specific vitamin supplements and foods to strengthen the immune system and destroy the mycoplasma. The technician/nutritionist who did the analysis had nothing to gain from recommending this regimen, as none of the items were being purchased through him.

    Reply

    • Pam Dodd Says:

      Becky: People with Chronic Lyme try many other treatments besides antibiotics. Some of it helps. Some doesn’t. Every person is different. I will say that anyone who’s an expert on a specific health modality has a vested interest in having their clients/customers/patients buy their products and services. Buyer Beware is always a good caveat. Desperate Lyme patients spend a lot of time, money, and energy looking for the next best thing that will supposedly cure their Lyme-related infections and/or boost their immune systems. A lot of it, sorry to say, is money down the drain.

      Reply

    • Gratitude Says:

      I am interested in the supplement regime that was recommended to you. Thank you!

      Reply

    • Donna G Says:

      did it work? did it help?

      Reply

    • C Says:

      hello- where did you have that live cell analysis done? was there a name for it? and also where did you go for your 4 month treatment regiment to strengthen your immunity?? thanks

      Reply

  7. MJK Says:

    What do you do if you are proven to be resistant to the macrolids? What step do take?

    Reply

    • Pam Dodd Says:

      I’mm not a doctor. My guess would be try something else, if there is anything. Many people with Lyme and other co-infections have drug sensitivities and allergies. Their doctors do their best to find other treatments that may work.

      Reply

  8. Joseph J. Bradley Says:

    Regarding Mycoplasma. Did you know this disease was patented by the United States Army in the late 1980s, just prior to the first Gulf War.

    Reply

    • LIMEFRIED Says:

      This is a site to help you if you have ANY Mycoplasma infection. It will open your eyes to a new world of healing. Lyme is a very deep pit and you often feel like dying if you dont seek help. http://www.mpkb.org

      Reply

      • Pam Dodd Says:

        Thanks for the link, Limefried. This site does not endorse any specific Lyme protocols. As always, Buyer Beware.

      • Pam Dodd Says:

        Thanks for the link, Limefried. This site doesn’t endorse any specific Lyme protocol; all have their pluses and minuses. As always, Buyer Beware.

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