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Nontuberculous mycobacterial infections.

CONTEXT: Nontuberculous mycobacteria include numerous acid-fast bacilli species, many of which have only recently been recognized as pathogenic. The diagnosis of mycobacterial disease is based on a combination of clinical features, microbiologic data, radiographic findings, and histopathologic studies.

OBJECTIVE: To provide an overview of the clinical and pathologic aspects of nontuberculous mycobacteria infection, including diagnostic laboratory methods, classification, epidemiology, clinical presentation, and treatment.

DATA SOURCES: Review of the pertinent literature and published methodologies.

CONCLUSIONS: Nontuberculous mycobacteria include numerous acid-fast bacilli species, many of which are potentially pathogenic, and are classified according to the Runyon system based on growth rates and pigment production. Their slow growth hinders cultures, which require special medium and prolonged incubation. Although such methods are still used, newer nucleic acid-based technologies (polymerase chain reaction and hybridization assays) can rapidly detect and speciate some mycobacteria--most notably, distinguishing Mycobacterium tuberculosis from other species. Infections caused by these organisms can present as a variety of clinical syndromes, not only in immunocompromised patients but also in immunocompetent hosts. Most common among these are chronic pulmonary infections, superficial lymphadenitis, soft tissue and osteoarticular infections, and disseminated disease. Treatment of nontuberculous mycobacterial infections is difficult, requiring extended courses of multidrug therapy with or without adjunctive surgical intervention.

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