Journal Article
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
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Health impacts of environmental mycobacteria.

Environmental mycobacteria are emerging pathogens causing opportunistic infections in humans and animals. The health impacts of human-mycobacterial interactions are complex and likely much broader than currently recognized. Environmental mycobacteria preferentially survive chlorination in municipal water, using it as a vector to infect humans. Widespread chlorination of water has likely selected more resistant environmental mycobacteria species and potentially explains the shift from M. scrofulaceum to M. avium as a cause of cervical lymphadenitis in children. Thus, human activities have affected mycobacterial ecology. While the slow growth and hydrophobicity of environmental mycobacteria appear to be disadvantages, the unique cell wall architecture also grants high biocide and antibiotic resistance, while hydrophobicity facilitates nutrient acquisition, biofilm formation, and spread by aerosolization. The remarkable stress tolerance of environmental mycobacteria is the major reason they are human pathogens. Environmental mycobacteria invade protozoans, exhibiting parasitic and symbiotic relationships. The molecular mechanisms of mycobacterial intracellular pathogenesis in animals likely evolved from similar mechanisms facilitating survival in protozoans. In addition to outright infection, environmental mycobacteria may also play a role in chronic bowl diseases, allergies, immunity to other pulmonary infections, and the efficacy of bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccination.

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