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Mycoplasma

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Also known as: Mycoplasma by PCR; Mycoplasma Culture; Ureaplasma Culture
Formal name: Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgG and IgM Antibodies; Mycoplasma pneumoniae Culture; Mycoplasma Culture, genital source; Mycoplasma DNA Testing

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To detect an active or recent mycoplasma (type of bacteria) infection

When to Get Tested?

When your doctor suspects that your respiratory or other symptoms are caused by a mycoplasma infection; when a genital infection may be caused by mycoplasma or ureaplasma (a particular type of mycoplasma)

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm, a throat swab, sputum sample, body fluid or tissue sample; occasionally, genital or urethral swab

Test Preparation Needed?

None

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Mycoplasmas are the smallest free-living microorganisms known. They may exist as part of the normal flora found in the throat, upper respiratory tract, and genitourinary tract. Mycoplasmas are unlike other types of bacteria in many ways and can be difficult to culture and identify. Mycoplasma testing is used to determine whether someone currently has or recently had a mycoplasma infection.

Mycoplasma testing includes a group of tests that either measure antibodies in the blood produced in response to a mycoplasma infection or detect the microorganism directly through culturing or by detecting its genetic material (DNA) in a body sample. It is most often used to detect Mycoplasma pneumoniae (M. pneumoniae), the causative agent of respiratory infections often referred to as "atypical pneumonia."

M. pneumoniae is a common cause of upper respiratory infections, with an estimated 2 million cases in the U.S. each year. It is responsible for 15-20% of cases of community-acquired pneumonia, appearing as single cases and as periodic epidemics, especially in school-age children and in military populations or other settings where people live in close quarters. Infections can occur at any time of the year, but outbreaks are more prevalent in the late summer and early fall.

Most cases of M. pneumoniae infection are mild and self-limited, causing nonspecific symptoms such as bronchitis, a runny nose, and a nonproductive cough that may persist for several weeks. Symptoms may become more severe, causing fever, sore throat, headaches, and muscle aches, when the infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract and causes "walking pneumonia," or, more rarely, spreads to other parts of the body. This is especially true in very young infants, in those who have underlying health conditions, such as asthma, or who have compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS. Depending upon what parts of the body become infected, complications may range from meningitis to difficulty breathing, cardiac inflammation and arrhythmia, skin rashes, lesions or nodules, arthritis, anemia, or to Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Testing may occasionally be done to detect other species of mycoplasma. Mycoplasma hominis, Mycoplasma genitalium, and Ureaplasma urealyticum infections are less common than those seen with M. pneumoniae. In adults, these organisms are primarily sexually transmitted, causing nongonococcal urethritis (NGU) and some inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) in men and sometimes associated with vaginal discharge and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women. M. hominis and U. urealyticum can be passed from mother to baby during birth when the baby passes through an infected birth canal. They typically colonize infants for their first couple of years. Rarely, they can cause systemic infections in infants and in those with compromised immune systems.

How is the sample collected for testing?

The sample required depends on the method being used and on the health status of the person being tested:

  • Antibody testing requires a blood sample, obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.
  • Direct detection of mycoplasma may be done on a variety of samples. For a respiratory infection, samples may include sputum, a washing of the bronchi in the lungs, or throat swab. If a systemic infection is being diagnosed, blood, joint fluid, body fluids, or tissues samples may be cultured. Some samples may require a special procedure to collect them. To detect a genital infection, a swab of the cervix or urethra may be collected.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

The Test

Common Questions

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Article Sources

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.

Sources Used in Current Review

Waites, K. (Updated 2012 September 28). Mycoplasma Infections. Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/223609-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed September 2013.

Chatterjee, A. and O'Keefe, C. (Updated 2012 November 20). Pediatric Mycoplasma Infections. Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/966785-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed September 2013.

(Updated 2013 May 11). Mycoplasma pneumoniae Infections. Healthychildren.org [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chest-lungs/Pages/Mycoplasma-pneumoniae-Infections.aspx through http://www.healthychildren.org. Accessed September 2013.

Dugdale, D. (Updated 2012 August 30). Mycoplasma pneumonia. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000082.htm through http://www.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed September 2013.

Couturier, M. et. al. (Updated 2013 July). Mycoplasma pneumoniae. ARUP Consult [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arupconsult.com/Topics/Mycoplasmapneumoniae.html?client_ID=LTD through http://www.arupconsult.com. Accessed September 2013.

(Updated 2013 May 15). Mycoplasmal Pneumonia. Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1941994-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed September 2013.

McPherson, R. and Pincus, M. (© 2011). Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods 22nd Edition: Elsevier Saunders, Philadelphia, PA. Pp 1065-1078.

Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Mycoplasma Fact Sheet. Available online at http://phpa.dhmh.maryland.gov/IDEHASharedDocuments/MYCOPLASMA.pdf through http://phpa.dhmh.maryland.gov. Accessed October 2013.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

Forbes, B. et. al. (© 2007). Bailey & Scott's Diagnostic Microbiology, 12th Edition: Mosby Elsevier Press, St. Louis, MO. Pp 525-532.

Wu, A. (© 2006). Tietz Clinical Guide to Laboratory Tests, 4th Edition: Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, MO. Pp 1586-1587.

Medoff, B. (Updated 2008 September 24). Mycoplasma pneumonia. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000082.htm. Accessed October 2009.

Bono, M. (Updated 2008 August 5). Pneumonia, Mycoplasma. eMedicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/807927-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed October 2009.

Waites, K. (Updated 2008 March 26). Mycoplasma Infections. eMedicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/223609-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed October 2009.

Chatterjee, A. and O'Keefe, C. (Updated 2009 August 10). Mycoplasma Infections. eMedicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/966785-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed October 2009.

Fisher, M. et. al. (Updated 2009 August). Mycoplasma pneumonia. ARUP Consult [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arupconsult.com/Topics/Mycoplasmapneumoniae.html through http://www.arupconsult.com. Accessed October 2009.

Lee, K. (2008 September 24). Pediatric Respiratory Infections by Mycoplasma pneumonia. Medscape from Expert Review of Anti-Infective Therapy [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/580478 through http://www.medscape.com. Accessed October 2009.

Waites, K. (Updated 2008 March 27). Ureaplasma Infection. eMedicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/231470-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed October 2009.

Plewa, M. (Updated 2009 August 4). Urethritis, Male. eMedicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/778374-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed October 2009.

Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. McPherson RA and Pincus MR, eds. Philadelphia: 2007, Pp 1010-1011.

Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. Kasper D, Braunwald E, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson JL, eds. McGraw-Hill, 2005, Pp. 1008-1010.

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