Diagnostic Methods

Clinical reference laboratories can provide diagnostic testing for Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections using culture, serology, or molecular methods.

Diagnostic options

Culture of M. pneumoniae is performed by specialized reference laboratories, but it’s time-consuming and not optimal for treatment decisions.

Serological testing has commercially available kits but lacks specificity. It often requires multiple patient visits to collect acute and convalescent paired sera specimens (time-sensitive sampling).

Molecular tests offer high sensitivity and specificity and provide timely results for treatment decisions. These tests can also type strains and determine antibiotic susceptibilities.

When additional or specialized testing is necessary, public health laboratories can provide diagnostic support or forward specimens to CDC.

Availability of molecular test kits

Currently, many clinical and public health laboratories use molecular test methods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved multiple molecular test kits for M. pneumoniae detection. Most of these kits detect multiple respiratory pathogens, including M. pneumoniae. However, some FDA-approved tests are single analyte for detection of M. pneumoniae only.

Consider testing for M. pneumoniae along with other respiratory pathogens if there’s increased respiratory illness in the community, especially among school-age children.

Unique characteristics that impact diagnostic methods

M. pneumoniae differ from other bacteria in ways that impact the methods used for diagnosis of infection. Laboratorians should keep these characteristics in mind when working with M. pneumoniae.

  • They can pass through filters typically used to remove bacteria.
  • Light microscopy cannot detect them.

They do not produce visible turbidity in liquid growth media. In order to get a visual confirmation of growth, M. pneumoniae cultures require specialized media. Growth in this media can take several weeks to confirm.