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Epidemiology of nontuberculous mycobacterial infections

David E Griffith, MD
Section Editor
C Fordham von Reyn, MD
Deputy Editor
Allyson Bloom, MD


Mycobacteria other than Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae are generally free-living organisms that are ubiquitous in the environment (table 1). They have been recovered from surface water, tap water, soil, domestic and wild animals, milk, and food products [1-4]. These organisms can also inhabit body surfaces or secretions without causing disease. Thus, occasional isolates of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) were largely considered contaminants or colonizers until the second half of this century. However, as tuberculosis declined and modern microbiological methods were developed, the importance of NTM in human disease became increasingly evident.

In broad terms, NTM cause four distinct clinical syndromes [5]:

Progressive pulmonary disease especially in older persons caused primarily by Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) and Mycobacterium kansasii

Superficial lymphadenitis, especially cervical lymphadenitis, in children caused mostly by MAC, Mycobacterium scrofulaceum, and, in northern Europe, Mycobacterium malmoense and Mycobacterium haemophilum; the most common cause in adults, however, is M. tuberculosis

Disseminated disease in severely immunocompromised patients


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Nov 17, 2014.
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