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  • Get the Facts: Mycoplasma Pneumonia

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    Penelope Dennehy, MD, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Hasbro Children's Hospital, addresses additional questions parents have about the illness.

    More from Lifespan:
    Kids and colds
    When to keep kids home from school
    Kids and germs: Teaching good hygiene

    More information:
    U.S. Centers for Disease Control

    Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even fungi. The recent cases of pneumonia in Rhode Island are thought to be caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria. Mycoplasma infections commonly cause "walking pneumonia," a mild pneumonia that usually does not require hospital care.

    • How are meningitis, encephalitis and pneumonia linked?
      In extremely rare cases, pneumonia can lead to meningitis or encephalitis. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain. Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
      • More about mycoplasma-related pneumonia, encephalitis and meningitis
    • How worried should parents be?
      Mycoplasma infections are usually mild and only rarely progress to encephalitis or meningitis. Usually, people who have the infection recover within two weeks.
    • How contagious is it?
      It is thought that the illness spreads via close, prolonged contact, so brief contact between children should not spread the illness. The illness usually spreads slowly in a group of people, and people with the illness are contagious for less than ten days.
    • Who's most at risk? So far, children seem to be the only ones affected. Are adults at risk as well?
      Older children and young adults under the age of 30 are most at risk for mycoplasma infections, although any age group can be affected. Those with weakened immune systems are also at risk.
    • How do we catch it?
      The illness is spread the same way other colds are spread: through mucous droplets. These can be released when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or touches his or her nose, eyes or mouth and then touches things that another person then comes in contact with.
    • How can we keep from catching or spreading it?
      The best way to prevent catching the illnesses is to use proper handwashing techniques and teach them to your children. If you have a runny nose or cough, remember to wash your hands often and cover your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze, and teach your children to do the same. If you are sick, you should not go to work or mingle with other people. If your child is sick, he or she should not go to school.
      Rules of thumb: When to keep kids home from school
    • What signs should I look for in my child? What should I do if I see those signs?
      The main symptoms of a mycoplasma pneumonia infection are:
      • fever
      • coughing
      • bronchitis
      • sore throat
      • earaches
      • headache
      If you see these symptoms in your child, you should contact your child's pediatrician. Symptoms can last from less than two weeks to more than a month.

      Symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis can include:
      • severe headaches
      • sensitivity to light
      • nausea and vomiting
      • confusion/disorientation
      • personality changes
      • a stiff neck
      If you see any of these symptoms, you should contact your child's pediatrician and take your child to the emergency department.

      If you are a resident of any of the areas recently affected, or have been in close, prolonged contact with a resident of these areas, and you or your child has symptoms of pneumonia, please consult the Rhode Island Department of Health for more information.

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