Non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) refers to a
group of bacteria from the same family as tuberculosis (TB) but which cause a
different kind of infection than TB.
NTM live in the environment and rarely cause
any problems for people without lung disease. However, NTM can infect areas of
the lung that have been damaged or infect people who have problems with their
immune system. There are many different types of NTM causing many different
types of disease.
The typical symptoms of NTM infection in the
lungs are cough, tiredness, weight loss, breathlessness, and sometimes chest
pain or coughing up blood.
NTM pulmonary disease can be a cause of
bronchiectasis, where someone can pick up the bug and the bug causes damage to
the lungs resulting in bronchiectasis. However, there is no agreement on this
always being the case, and bronchiectasis may instead act as a cause of NTM
pulmonary disease. It is also possible for NTM to infect the lungs in people
that already have bronchiectasis, and this can cause symptoms to get worse.
NTM do not damage the lungs in the way that TB
does, and sometimes people live with NTM in the lungs without needing to take
any extra treatment because the effects are quite mild. The treatment of NTM
involves a prolonged course of antibiotics.
There is very good information about NTM
available at www.ntminfo.org including a brochure
in 8 languages.