There are several germs that cause upper respiratory infections, ear infections, and pneumonia. Moraxella Catarrhalis is very common in infants and young children, mostly causing otitis media (ear infections). Over 15 to 20% of all cases of otitis media are caused by Moraxella. It is also found in around 2 to 4 million people that suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The good news is that by adulthood, most people clear the bacteria from their body, unless they have a chronic health condition. It only seems lasting in people with respiratory disease like COPD.

What Is Moraxella Catarrhalis?

Moraxella catarrhalis is one of the main causes of middle ear infections in babies and small children. It is also the cause of upper respiratory tract infections, and sometimes pneumonia. Moraxella is common in the winter months and puts babies and children at increased risk for frequent ear infections. There are risk factors that increase the chances of catching Moraxella catarrhalis including smoking in the home, cleanliness of the home, personal hygiene, and underlying health conditions.

The bacteria is spread through close contact with respiratory secretions. Doctors usually check for this strain when there is antibiotic failure and symptoms of a bacterial infection persist.

What Are The Symptoms of Moraxella Catarrhalis Infection?

There really are no specific symptoms for moraxella catarrhalis. Since it is an upper respiratory infection, the symptoms follow the same pattern as sinusitis, ear infections, or pneumonia including:

  • Cough

  • Sputum production (large amounts)

  • Shortness of breath

  • Earache

  • Headache

  • Sinus pressure

The symptoms are often first thought to be a common cold, if the symptoms persist 10 days or more then it is most likely moraxella and may need antibiotic treatment.

In ear infections, the symptoms usually include ear pain, fever, and loss of hearing. There may even be drainage from the ear canal if the eardrum has ruptured. In sinus infections, there may also be pain in the jaw area, fever, and cough. These are usually thought to be moraxella if the symptoms persist for 2 weeks or longer.

How Is Moraxella Catarrhalis Diagnosed?

Moraxella catarrhalis is usually not diagnosed individually, but as a general bacterial infection. If antibiotics do not work the doctor can run specific tests to see which antibiotic will be most effective. These include:

  • Complete Blood Count

  • Cultures of Sputum

  • Blood Serum Antibodies for Moraxella

The doctor may choose to do a CT scan of the ears, sinus cavities and/or lungs if the infection is severe. This will not diagnose the actual strain of bacteria, but can give the doctor an idea of how advanced the infection is. Some people may need treatment with intravenous antibiotics if the infection progresses to pneumonia.

What Is the Treatment for Moraxella Catarrhalis?


Moraxella catarrhalis treatment requires antibiotics. There is a high level of antibiotic resistance with this strain so doctors like to use newer and stronger antibiotics. These include:

  • Amoxicillin-clavulanate (Penicillin drugs)

  • Cephalosporins (Ceclor, Ceftin, Zinacef)

  • Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Sulfa drugs)

  • Azithromycin (Macrolide drugs)

  • Erythromycin (Macrolide drugs)

  • Clarithromycin (Macrolide drugs)

  • Fluoroquinolones (Cipro, Levaquin)

Treatment for upper respiratory infections with moraxella requires good home care. This includes:


Fever care

Fever is your body’s natural defenses kicking in to fight infection. Only treat a fever when it is above 101°F. Anything below that, let it run naturally. Fevers are usually only treated for comfort anyways or in children prone to “febrile seizures.” Keep cool and hydrated. Per your doctor’s advice, use acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Never use aspirin in children who have had symptoms of a viral infection, this can cause serious complications.


Sanitize the sick room

Wash pillow cases and change often. Use sanitizing wipes on objects in the “cough zone” and don’t allow sharing of utensils or glasses. Moraxella Catarrhalis is transmitted via respiratory secretions, but not known how long the bacteria lives on surfaces.


Encourage good handwashing

Make sure all members in the home practice good handwashing. Young children need to be reminded and babies of course will need our help.


No smoking in the home

Refrain from smoking in the home to prevent anyone infected from breathing second hand smoke.


Get outside

In order to recover from any infection, your body needs fresh air. This helps the cells get the oxygen they need and releases carbon dioxide. If you don’t feel like going outside, open some windows.


Eat right

When you have a fever, your digestion is slower. If your fever is over 99.5°F, eat clear and soft foods or clear liquids until your fever comes down. For babies and children, let them eat what they want and when they are ready. Start with clear broth and work up to soft foods.


Push fluids

Coughing up sputum and fever both deplete the body of needed fluids. Getting dehydrated can increase a fever and thicken secretions making it hard to get them out of the body. Drink clear fluids like electrolyte solution, decaffeinated tea, water, juices, and clear broth.


Cover the sneezes and coughs

Provide tissue to cover the mouth with sneezes and coughs. This prevents transmission. Also blowing the nose and spitting out the sputum helps clear the body of the infection. Provide a trash bag just for tissues.


Humidify the air

Sinus infections and coughs are relieved with humid air. Dry air can dry out the air passages making coughing and stuffiness worse. With babies, use a cool mist humidifier to prevent steam burns. You can also take kids into the bathroom and sit next to a steamy shower. You can do this several times a day.

What Is the Prognosis for Moraxella Catarrhalis?

Despite aggressive moraxella catarrhalis treatment, some people may experience complications. This usually happens if there is underlying disease in the body, like in the elderly, and very young children. These complications include:

  • Failure of the infection to clear or relapse

  • Blood infection

  • Spinal meningitis

  • Mastoiditis (Severe inner ear infection that has spread to the mastoid bones. This is a very serious condition since these bones are very near the brain.)

  • Loss of hearing

  • Fluid in the pleural space outside the lungs

  • Shock

  • Death

If the infection is caught early, it is highly treatable and the prognosis is very good. It usually clears in around 5 to 10 days with antibiotic treatment.


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