Learn more about the stealth microbe that may be causing your symptoms
by Dr. Bill Rawls
Last updated 10/25/16
There are many types of stealth microbes that co-infect and cause diseases such as fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
For fibromyalgia, the bacteria most commonly associated with causing the condition is a stealthy microbe called Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
Similar to other stealth microbes, Mycoplasma is able to hide deep inside its host’s cells. This enables it to find protection from the host’s immune system and antibiotic therapy.
Symptoms of Mycoplasma infection include: pharyngitis (sore throat), cough, fever, headache, malaise, rhinitis (runny nose), and eventually bronchitis and/or pneumonia (about the same symptoms as a bad cold or flu).
Understanding Mycoplasma infections
Mycoplasma infections can occur through the respiratory tract, ingestion, sexual intercourse, open wounds, and insect bites (ticks, biting flies, mosquitoes, fleas). Different species of Mycoplasma may have a preferential route of infection, but they are all capable of any transmission route if the opportunity arises.
After an infection, an initial tug-of-war will occur between the Mycoplasma and the host’s immune system for a duration of about three weeks. After this point, one of several things will occur:
Scenario 1: The microbe is completely eradicated from the body—the host gets over it and eventually becomes completely well.
This is the most common scenario for low-virulence microbes, in general. How quickly it happens depends on the health of the immune system and whether secondary infections with other microbes has occurred (infection with one microbe often opens the door for other microbes to follow).
Certain types of microbes (cold and flu viruses are good examples) can change antigenic presentation over time and can come back and infect the same person again, but at a separate event.
Scenario 2: The microbe is suppressed such that it is no longer active but can become reactivated at a later time.
This is more common with herpes viruses, which are harbored in nerve tissue and can reactivate if immune function is depressed. There are eight known herpes viruses that can infect humans, including herpes simplex 1 and 2, Varicella zoster (chickenpox—shingles), HH6, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Reactivation of herpes viruses is a common component of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
Scenario 3: The microbe becomes an ill-fitting symbiotic organism that drains energy and resources from the body.
However, equilibrium occurs with the immune system such that the host remains without significant symptoms. This is common with Mycoplasma (along with other low-virulence microbes) and may well be an under-recognized cause of progressive aging, chronic disease, and even cancer—you could be carrying something for years and not know it.
Scenario 4: The microbe retains the upper hand and exists as an imbalanced symbiotic organism.
In this scenario, the microbe remains in a tug-of-war with the immune system, continuing to cause system-wide symptoms in the host that are seemingly unrelated to the initial infection. This is also a common scenario with Mycoplasma infections and fibromyalgia.
These later symptoms that emerge are very different from the initial symptoms, which resolve completely over time. In other words, after the initial cough and congestion resolve, other seemingly unrelated symptoms such as fatigue and arthritis persist.
This last scenario occurs most often when the host’s immune system is compromised. This is typically the case in most onsets of chronic disease, including fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, and possibly most autoimmune diseases.
How Mycoplasma get past the immune system
Mycoplasma are extremely small and, unlike most bacteria, they do not have cell walls. This means they can take on different shapes and slip through spaces between cells. They can exist on the surface of cells but also readily grow inside cells, thus gaining protection from the immune system and antibiotic therapy—they really are stealthy!
Half the Mycoplasma’s genetic makeup is actually devoted to manipulating the host’s immune system. Mycoplasma routinely infect white blood cells and, at the same time, inhibit the ability of the white blood cell to properly dispose of the Mycoplasma bacteria inside.
They also block the ability of the immune system to recognize the infected cell as abnormal. (Normally, cells infected with viruses or bacteria are quickly targeted and destroyed.) In this manner, they can actually use the white blood cells to travel to sites of inflammation in the body, such as an inflamed joint.
Mycoplasma are then able to induce inflammation by manipulating the signaling mechanisms of the immune system. Inflammation breaks down tissues and allows the bacteria to access the host’s resources. Mitochondria are prime targets for energy; fatigue is always a factor in systemic Mycoplasma infections.
All tissues in the body can be infected with Mycoplasma, but joints, muscles, and nerve tissue are favorite sites to scavenge resources. This results in arthritis, pain, fatigue, and neurological symptoms.
There are many different types of Mycoplasma
Of the 200+ different species of Mycoplasma, 23 are known to cause human illness. Other examples include:
In closing, Mycoplasma infections are extremely difficult to diagnose because the bacteria are very small, they hide inside cells, and they can change their antigenic presentation almost continually. The best protection from chronic Mycoplasma infection is a strong immune system supported by antimicrobial herbs and a healthy lifestyle.
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4. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections. Healing Arts Press, 2013.
5. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Herbal Antivirals. Storey Publishing, 2013.
6. Image credit: http://www.thenakedscientists.com