Terms & Conditions

Mycoplasma pneumonia: Signs, symptoms, and tips for preventing infection

Chloe Schneider

Chloe Schneider

Chloe is a writer and content strategist with bylines in mindbodygreen, Mashable, Ageless by Rescu, and more. She's a mum to one-year-old Felix, and believes that you can have it all, you just can't have it all at once
Created on Apr 09, 2024 · 4 mins read
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This year summer has stretched out a little weather-wise, but unfortunately, the daycare and school viruses and infections didn’t seem to get the memo. Winter has already arrived at the doctor’s office, with rising numbers of mycoplasma pneumonia infections reported nationwide.

When news like this hits the media, the best thing we can do as parents is take a deep breath, learn about the signs and symptoms, and note what to look out for. Once that’s done, try not to worry about the what-ifs and trust that you have the intuition and knowledge to spot the symptoms and get a doctor’s help if needed. 

In this article, we’ll explain what mycoplasma pneumonia is, and share symptom-spotting tips from one of our most trusted advisors, Sarah Hunstead from CPR Kids


What is mycoplasma pneumonia?

Mycoplasma pneumonia is a type of bacteria that causes mild respiratory infections. Symptoms have a gradual onset, typically developing over 1-3 weeks, with cough or fatigue persisting for over a month. It is most common in people aged 5 to 20 but can occur at any age. 

Like most respiratory illnesses, it’s spread through contact with respiratory fluids. When someone coughs or sneezes in an enclosed area like a school or daycare, droplets containing mycoplasma pneumonia are released into the air and can be breathed in before attaching to lung tissue and multiplying. This is how an infection begins. 

In some cases, mycoplasma pneumonia can cause severe pneumonia, but it mostly presents with fairly minor symptoms. As Sarah shared, “it earned the nickname ‘walking pneumonia’ because many people with the condition can continue their daily activities despite being sick.”  

Symptoms of mycoplasma pneumonia

We asked Sarah Hunstead from CPR Kids about what to look for if we’re worried about mycoplasma pneumonia. She said, “Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection typically starts with symptoms similar to those of a common cold.” 

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore, scratchy throat
  • Fever and/or sweating
  • Cough
  • Generally feeling unwell 
  • Fatigue 

Since most of these symptoms are also commonly seen in colds, the flu, and other mild respiratory illnesses, it’s especially important, Sarah says, “for parents and carers to be vigilant about their child’s symptoms. They should call an ambulance if they notice their child is showing emergency symptoms.”

Emergency symptoms include: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain 
  • Change in colour e.g. blue lips
  • Difficulty waking

And remember, always trust your instincts! If you are worried about your child, seek medical help.

Who is at increased risk?

Children aged three to seven who have never been exposed to mycoplasma pneumonia before are particularly at risk, but young people in general (under the age of 20) are considered more likely to contract the bacteria. 

People at risk for more serious infections include anyone recovering from an existing respiratory illness, people with pre-existing lung conditions, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Diagnosing and treating mycoplasma pneumonia

Let’s say you reckon your child has mycoplasma pneumonia. In that case, your doctor can perform a nose and throat PCR swab to test for atypical bacteria including mycoplasma, or conduct a chest x-ray. 

If mycoplasma pneumonia is confirmed, your child may be prescribed antibiotics to speed up the recovery time, though most people will recover completely without the need for antibiotics. Talk to your doctor and keep in contact with them as things change. 

At home, you can manage symptoms with suitable painkillers like paracetamol, plenty of bed rest and fluids, and humidifiers or honey (for children over 12 months only) to help soothe a dry cough or sore throat.

Helping curb the trend and protect your kids

As much as we wish we could protect our little ones from illness, bacterial infections like mycoplasma pneumonia can be hard to avoid when there’s an outbreak at your kid’s school or daycare. You can, however, do a few things to help protect your kids from infection, and help curb the trend we’re seeing in hospitals around the country.

Sarah recommends parents and caregivers, “teach and reinforce good hand hygiene practices, including frequent handwashing with soap and water. They should also encourage children to cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, preferably with a tissue or their elbow. And, if possible, avoid close contact with individuals who are sick.”

In other words, when it comes to prevention, mycoplasma pneumonia should be treated like any other respiratory illness that shows up in winter — it’s all about common sense and good hygiene.

Wrapping it up

Mycoplasma pneumoniae is considered atypical because the symptoms are milder and the duration of sickness longer than typical pneumonia. Because of this, it can be difficult to spot and is often referred to as ‘walking pneumonia’ since people can continue to go about their day.

As parents, any respiratory symptoms our children display should be monitored carefully and if you are worried, visit your GP to get a diagnosis or advice on managing symptoms. If any of the red light symptoms listed above are present, call an ambulance or go to emergency.

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