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.
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
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.
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:
- Growing this organism in a Petri dish (bacterial culture) requires special conditions and takes weeks, making microbiology culture a poor diagnostic tool.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
©2010 LymeDiseaseBlog.com. All rights reserved. You may send this to your friends and family, but please do not republish it in any form, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from us.