Mycobacterial Infections

A diverse and ubiquitous family of organisms, mycobacteria (the most notorious of which is tuberculosis (TB) inhabit our daily environments (shower heads, soil, water). Most of the time they cause no problems, but in rare circumstances they can cause infections. Therapy is typically complex, with medications directed at the cell walls of these organisms. Treatment duration is often very long, and depends on the organ affected and the type of mycobacterium involved. 

Signs and Symptoms

In some cases, mycobacterial infections present no signs or symptoms and pose no risk to your health. In other cases, however, you may experience any number of the following signs or symptoms that are similar to tuberculosis:

  • Cough
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss

Diagnosis and Treatment

To rule out other problems, diagnosis may begin with a complete physical exam and medical history, followed by tests, which might include:

  • CT (CAT) scan of your chest (to give a detailed picture of your lungs)
  • Lab tests
  • Bronchoscopy (to give a view from inside your airways)

Nontuberculous mycobacteria infections are treated with very strong antibiotics. Treatment may last a full year or two. The antibiotics used can cause severe side effects, so doctors carefully monitor patients who receive them. Close monitoring should be performed by an infectious disease specialist who knows specifically what to look for in terms of progress of the antibiotics and the disease.