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Lett Appl Microbiol. 2014 Jul;59(1):65-70. doi: 10.1111/lam.12243. Epub 2014 Mar 26.

Abundance of Mycobacterium avium ssp. hominissuis in soil and dust in Germany - implications for the infection route.

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Division 16 Mycotic and Parasitic Agents and Mycobacteria, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany.


The nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are a heterogeneous group of bacteria found in soil, water and dust. The spread of NTM infection depends on the exposure to reservoirs with high proportions of mycobacteria, the virulence of the NTM strains, the enhanced sensitivity to infections such as those of immune-compromised hosts and patient risk factors such as Cystic Fibrosis. Since several decades, NTM lung disease has been increasingly observed in slender postmenopausal women. The most important NTM in Germany is Mycobacterium avium ssp. hominissuis (MAH). The routes of MAH infection are in almost all cases unknown, but water is often suspected as source of infection. We wanted to examine this hypothesis by determining the frequency of MAH in environmental samples of water, biofilms, soil and dust originating from Germany. We found MAH in 33% of the dust samples and 20% of the soil samples. No MAH could be isolated from water and biofilm. Dust and soil clearly presented more abundance of MAH in comparison with water and biofilms. Therefore, more attention should be paid to soil and dust in Germany as an important source of Myco. avium infections.


This study was conducted to investigate the ecological abundance of the most prominent clinical nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) in Germany, the Mycobacterium avium ssp. hominissuis (MAH). Examination of soil, water, dust and biofilm samples revealed that MAH in Germany was predominant in soil and dust. No MAH was identified in water and biofilms. Our finding contributes to the identification of the environmental niche of this opportunistic pathogen and proposes soil and dust as sources of MAH infection in Germany.


ecology; environment; nontuberculous mycobacteria

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