'Walking pneumonia' cases on the rise in children at Cook Children's Fort Worth

Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth is seeing a spike in a particular type of pneumonia cases.

Last week, 80 out of about 400 patients tested positive for mycoplasma pneumonia. There were no cases during the same week last year.

Mycoplasma pneumonia is a bacterial infection that can be severe for children with pre-existing conditions.

The community of doctors at Cook’s wants North Texas parents and childcare providers to be on alert for what they’re calling a mini epidemic.

"Usually, we do see it under 6 as the most common time you see mycoplasma. This season, we are seeing it in every age group," said Cook Children’s Health Dr. Stephanie Felton. "So there’s not a specific age group. We’re seeing it in adolescents. We’re seeing it in our very small infants."

"When we see elevated rates like this, we do start to see more cases that are more severe and some of the unique side effects with mycoplasma," said Cook Children’s Health Dr. Nicholas Rister.

Those symptoms are similar to the common cold. 

However, children — like those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma — can experience severe conditions, including prolonged coughing, fever, pink eye and or a rash in the mouth or on the skin with large blisters.   

This image depicted both an anteroposterior (AP) chest x-ray of the left, and a left lateral chest x-ray on the right, which revealed pathologic changes in the patient’s lung fields, due to a condition known as mycoplasma pneumonia, caused by a Mycop (CDC/ H. Bruce Dull, M.D.)

"If you look in the back of the mouth of your kids, you might see little vesicles. That or little bumps in the back of the throat," Felton said. "That can be very painful when they are drinking or eating. That might prime you to think it may be mycoplasma."

The doctors say mycoplasma pneumonia is treatable, but it’s also known for being not easily detected and causing what’s known as ‘walking pneumonia.’ 

"Specifically, it is spread by respiratory droplets, like most of our common colds are, but specifically during the summertime," Dr. Felton said. "Kids are going to summer camp. They’re playing at playgrounds. They’re seeing other kids, doing pool parties. Those are all ways kids are spreading this pretty commonly."

"For most people, it’s self-limiting, and they get better. But for some, a small 10% or so, can get more severe, and you may need to be hospitalized," Dr. Rister said. "You’re going to have a cough. You’re going to have shortness of breath. You’ll have a fever. If that gets severe enough, you might need to come to the hospital for IV antibiotics or treatment to make sure you’re breathing okay."

Cook Children’s says last week, 80 out of 398 patients tested were found to be infected, or a 20% positivity rate.  The same time last year, the positivity rate was zero.

"I think the biggest thing is when you are worried about your child, please seek medical care," Felton said. "The number one thing you can do is call your pediatrician, try to get to see them. If they are unavailable, we have urgent care all around that will be happy to see your children."

Doctors say parents should seek medical attention if their child has a fever for more than five days or has difficulty breathing.