Primary atypical pneumonia is caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae. This bacterium is not part of the respiratory tract’s normal microbiota and can cause epidemic disease outbreaks. Also known as walking pneumonia, mycoplasma pneumonia infections are common in crowded environments like college campuses and military bases. It is spread by aerosols formed when coughing or sneezing. The disease is often mild, with a low fever and persistent cough. These bacteria, which do not have cell walls, use a specialized attachment organelle to bind to ciliated cells. In the process, epithelial cells are damaged and the proper function of the cilia is hindered.
Mycoplasma grow very slowly when cultured. Therefore, penicillin and thallium acetate are added to agar to prevent the overgrowth by faster-growing potential contaminants. Since M. pneumoniae does not have a cell wall, it is resistant to these substances. Without a cell wall, the microbial cells appear pleomorphic. M. pneumoniae infections tend to be self-limiting but may also respond well to macrolide antibiotic therapy. β-lactams, which target cell wall synthesis, are not indicated for treatment of infections with this pathogen.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology