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Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 1997 Feb;1(1):75-80.

Isolation of environmental mycobacteria from clinical specimens in south-east England: 1973-1993.

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Public Health Laboratory, Dulwich Public Health Laboratory, Dulwich Hospital, London, UK.



A reference centre for tuberculosis bacteriology serving South-East England.


The number of cultures of environmental mycobacteria (EM) submitted to regional and reference laboratories in the UK is increasing, and is adding considerably to the workload of these laboratories. The changing trends in the numbers and nature of EM submitted to the Dulwich Public Health Laboratory Regional Tuberculosis Centre (RTC), have been analysed to establish the nature of the increase.


This study is based on all cultures of EM submitted to RTC between 1973 and 1993. The cultures were grouped according to year of first isolation, number of isolates and data supplied by the client laboratories, including age and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status of the patients and the anatomical sites from which the mycobacteria were isolated.


A total of 9379 EM from 6668 patients was received. Single and multiple isolates were received, respectively, from 4681 and 1192 patients not known to be HIV positive and from 477 and 318 who were known to be HIV positive. The annual number of patients not known to be HIV positive with isolates of probable clinical significance increased steadily from less than 40 in 1973 to over 100 per year since 1990. Isolates of doubtful clinical significance also showed an increase over time. The annual numbers from HIV positive patients increased steeply following the first such isolates in 1984.


The data show that the annual number of isolates of EM from both HIV positive and negative patients is increasing both absolutely and relatively to isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This trend should be considered when planning the future scope and activities of mycobacterium reference laboratories, including the introduction of new DNA-based diagnostic methods.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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