Mycoplasma organisms such as MG are weird. Science fiction writers hope for the creativity to come up with a villain and plot as creepy and strange as these organisms and their life cycles. Mycoplasms are among the simplest life forms on the planet, yet they are responsible for serious diseases of birds, people, cattle, and other creatures.
Mycoplasms are incredibly tiny, even by bacterial standards, and they lack a cell wall that nearly all bacteria have. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage, because although it makes them resistant to some types of antibiotics that target a bacterial cell wall, it also makes them very fragile, so that they do not survive long outside of a host animal. We can use this to our advantage, by avoiding the types of antibiotics that mycoplasms ‘laugh at’, such as penicillin, and by cleaning and resting our chicken coops for about two weeks between groups of birds, allowing the organisms in the environment to die out before reintroducing new birds.
Because MG causes serious economic losses (fewer eggs and slower growth, for examples) in commercial poultry farming, many of the world’s nations, including the U.S., have agreed to report MG infections to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and to work toward controlling the disease. MG infection is a reportable disease in many U.S. states; this means that if an MG infection is detected in a backyard flock, depending on the state in which the flock is located, animal health officials might be required to investigate and/or quarantine the farm. Unfortunately, the most effective way to successfully eliminate MG infection and lift the quarantine is to destroy all of the birds, clean and disinfect the premises, and start over.
Next: Eradicate, control, or live with it?