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Chest. 2008 Jan;133(1):243-51. doi: 10.1378/chest.07-0358.

Pulmonary disease due to nontuberculous mycobacteria.

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Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.

Erratum in

  • Chest. 2008 May;133(5):1291.


Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are increasingly associated with pulmonary disease. This is a worldwide phenomenon and one that is not related just to better diagnostic techniques or HIV infection. The mode of transmission of NTM is not well defined, but environmental exposure may be the major factor. While most exposed and infected individuals never acquire NTM disease, some ostensibly immunocompetent persons will. Although our understanding of the pathogenesis of NTM disease is incomplete, we believe that both host and mycobacterial factors are involved. Among the former, interferon-gamma"trafficking" may well play a central role. When disease occurs, it is likely to present in one of three prototypical forms: a tuberculosis-like pattern often affecting older male smokers with COPD; nodular bronchiectasis classically occurring in middle-aged or older women who never smoked and present with cough; and hypersensitivity pneumonitis following environmental exposure. While Mycobacterium avium complex has been described with all three forms, many other NTM can produce one or another of them; variants of these prototypes also exist. Diagnosis of NTM disease relies on microbiology and chest CT scanning, and criteria to aid diagnosis are available. Treatment of disease depends on the species involved, extent and form of disease, and overall condition of the patient. Surgery for localized disease may be useful for those species expected to be refractory to medical therapy. Observation without treatment may be appropriate for some patients with slowly progressive disease that is expected to be particularly difficult to treat.

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