Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a microscopic bacterium of the class Mollicutes and is the cause of a form of human primary, atypical bacterial pneumonia (PAP), or “walking pneumonia” that is related to cold agglutinin disease called the Mycoplasma pneumonia. It is called the “walking pneumonia” as the patient continues to normally walk around and perform his day to day activities even after being affected by the bacterium.
The bacterium has one of the smallest genomes known to mankind, with 816 kilobase pairs, also called as a degenerate genome. It is referred to as a degenerate genome as it lacks the components for producing essential cellular compounds including new purines and pyrimidines and tri-carboxylic acid required to carry to life sustaining activities of the cell. Due to the absence of a self-support system, the bacterium is often called an obligate parasite and is never found free-living.
In olden times, Mycoplasma pneumoniae was known as “Eaton’s agent”, and was considered to be a virus rather than a bacterium.
Unlike its counterparts of the class Mollicutes, the Mycoplasma pneumonia lacks a peptido-glycan cell wall. In contrast, it possesses a cell membrane composed of sterol compounds, quite similar to that of eukaryotic cells. In addition, the plasma membrane is a three-layered structure, often called as the trilaminar unit membrane also. Due to the lack of a cell wall, this bacterium is resistant to the effects of penicillin and other beta-lactam antibiotics which act by disintegrating the cell wall. Certain antibiotics which have exhibited effective activity against this bacterium include certain macrolides (erythromycin, azithromycin, clarithromycin), fluoroquinolones and their derivatives (ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin) and tetracyclines (doxycycline).
Mycoplasma pneumoniae transmits itself through the process of respiratory droplet transmission. It attaches itself to the mucosa of the host organism, and survives by extracting essential nutrients from it. It further grows and reproduces through the process of binary fission (each cell divides itself and its components into two halves giving rise to two new cells). Common breeding sites for the bacterium in the human body include the upper and the lower respiratory tract which become home to diseases like pharyngitis, bronchitis and pneumonia later due to the infection caused by the bacterium. The infection so caused is referred to as an atypical pneumonia due to its protracted course and lack of sputum production accompanied by a host of extra-pulmonary symptoms.
Infections caused by this particular bacterium can be set apart from other types of pneumonia by the comparatively slow progression of symptoms, a positive blood test after 10 days of infection for cold-hemagglutinins, lack of bacteria in a gram-stained sputum sample, and a lack of growth on blood agar.
Certain treatments followed worldwide to deal with the bacterium and the various diseases caused by it include prescribing second generation macrolide antibiotics like erythromycin and doxycycline and second generation quinolones.
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