Mycobacterium (includes the tuberculosis- and leprosy-causing bacteria)

Life > Eubacteria

There are numerous species of Mycobacterium and some species are found just about everywhere, such as in water (including drinking water and swimming pools) and soil. Some are beneficial such as Mycobacterium austroafricanum, which breaks down a toxic petroleum additive. However, there are many that do cause disease in both animals and humans. The most important human disease species are Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the main causitive agent of tuberculosis), Mycobacterium leprae (causes leprosy) and Mycobacterium ulcerans (causes Buruli ulcer). There are a number of species found in water and soil that cause Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease, mainly a problem with immunosupressed individuals such as people infected with HIV.

Species encountered, or likely to be encountered, in southern Africa

Mycobacterium abscessus

Causes rapid-growing Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease in humans. It can also infect wounds and damage the skin.  It most commonly causes fibronodular bronchiectasis (Field & Cowie 2006) - don't know what its prevalence is in southern Africa.

 

Mycobacterium aubagnense

Recorded from South African soil samples by Lukusa (2009).

 

Mycobacterium austroafricanum

First described from South Africa where it was isolated from a water sample (Tsukamura et al. 1983).  It has since been found that there is a strain of Mycobacterium austroafricanum that breaks down the chemical methyl tert-butyl ether (otherwise abbreviated as MTBE) by using it as a carbon and energy source.   MTBE is added to gasoline to increase the octane index and improve emission quality. However, it is soluble in water and can become a serious pollutant, especially as it is suspected as a human carcinogen (Ferreira et al. 2006). Petroleum-contaminated soils have been found to contain Mycobacterium austroafricanum (cited in Lukusa 2009). Rubrivivax gelatinosus and Hydrogenophaga have also been found to break down MTBE.

 

Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC)

Members of this complex infect a range of birds and mammals, including humans (particularly HIV immunosupressed individuals). MAC is the most common form of slow-growing Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease in humans (Field & Cowie 2006). Infection can be through residential water sources (including drinking water, swimming pools, hot tubs) and from soil (Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium boenickei

Occurs in soil, dust and water and can infect humans with a variety of symptoms that include skin and soft tissue abscesses, lung disease, and inflammation of various organs, including meningitis.

 

Mycobacterium botniense

Recorded from natural surface water streams in Finland (cited in Lukusa 2009)  - don't know what its prevalence is in southern Africa.

 

Mycobacterium chelonae

Causes rapid-growing Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) disease in humans, normally in the form of skin and soft-tissue infections, rarely causing lung disease (Field & Cowie 2006). Very resistant to antibiotics and disinfectants. Recorded from public swimming pools in Italy (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium chlorophenolicum

Recorded from petroleum-contaminated soil (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium chubuense

Recorded from soil in Japan (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium flavescens

Recorded from petroleum-contaminated soil (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium fortuitum

Causes rapid-growing Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) disease in humans, normally in the form of skin and soft-tissue infections, frequently in postsurgical wounds, but also causes lung disease (Field & Cowie 2006). Found in water (including public drinking sources and swimming pools) and soil. Recorded from South African soil samples by Lukusa (2009).

 

Mycobacterium frederiksbergense

Recorded from soil in Japan (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium gastri

Typically found in the stomach but can be located in other parts of the human body. Also found in the soil.

 

Mycobacterium gordonae

Widely distributed in the environment and frequently found in tap water and swimming pools (cited in Lukusa 2009). However, it is rarely implicated as a slow-growing Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease.

 

Mycobacterium immunogenum

Associated with Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease in humans (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium intracellulare

Found in soil and water and also infects animals, including humans. Chege et al. (2008) record infections in Papio ursinus (Chacma baboon) in South Africa.

 

Mycobacterium kansasii

Often found in tap water, particularly in urban areas. Causes slow-growing Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease in South African gold miners (Field & Cowie 2006). The source of the disease among these miners is probably from the water supply, particularly from shower heads used by the miners (Kwenda 2010).

 

Mycobacterium leprae

Causes leprosy (Hansen's disease) in humans.

 

Mycobacterium lepraemurium

Causes a disease in rats and is also responsible for feline leprosy. Presumably encountered in southern Africa.

 

Mycobacterium mageritense

Recorded from soil in Japan (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium malmoense

Causes slow-growing Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease in humans - don't know what its prevalence is in southern Africa.

 

Mycobacterium manitobense

Recorded from soil in India (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium marinum

A free-living bacterium that sometimes causes infections in humans, typically in the form of superficial nodules or papules on the skin. These are usually located on extremities such as elbows where body temperature is lower as growth of this bacterium is inhibited at higher temperatures. Aquarium owners are susceptible to infection as are people who swim in poorly constructed and maintained swimming pools. Recorded from public swimming pools in Italy (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium montefiorense

Causes a skin disease in Moray eels (Muraenidae).

 

Mycobacterium mucogenicum

Recorded from public drinking sources such as ice machines and water treatment plants. Recorded from South African water samples by Lukusa (2009).

 

Mycobacterium palstre

One of the species associated with Non-Tuberculosis (NTM) lung disease in humans (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium scrofulaceum (Scrophula bacillus)

The most common cause in children of cervical tuberculous lymphadenopathy or scrofula, the main symptom of which is inflamation of the cervical lymph nodes, which results in large unsightly abscesses on the neck. Mycobacterium scrofulaceum can be found in drinking water - for instance a study in Taiwan found it in hospital drinking water (cited in Lukusa 2009). Scrophula in adults is mainly caused Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

 

Mycobacterium simiae

Recorded from hospital drinking water in Taiwan (cited in Lukusa 2009). One of the species associated with Non-Tuberculosis (NTM) lung disease in humans (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium smegmatis

Recorded from South African soil samples by Lukusa (2009).

 

Mycobacterium szulgai

Recorded from hospital drinking water in Taiwan (cited in Lukusa 2009). One of the species associated with Non-Tuberculosis (NTM) lung disease in humans (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium terrae (Radish bacillus)

Common name arises from the fact that it was first isolated from radish washings. Found in the soil and can, uncommonly, infect humans, usually people working with soil where Mycobacterium terrae probably gains entry through a wound in the hand. Infection most commonly results in tenosynovitis (inflammation of the fluid-filled sheath that surrounds a tendon) in the hand. It can also infect the lungs, causing a cavitary process and a granuloma (Smith et al. 2000). Presumably occurs in southern Africa.

 

Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC)

Members of this complex cause tuberculosis in animals, including humans.

 
 

Mycobacterium bovis

Causes tuberculosis in cattle and can also cause tuberculosis in humans (although Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the main causative agent in the latter case). A live attenuated strain was developed as a vaccine against tuberculosis by Calmette and Guérin and first used in humans in 1921. It is called Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) and has been used ever since as the primary vaccine against tuberculosis although it is not entirely effective. 

 
 

Mycobacterium caprae

Causes tubercolosis in sheep and goats - not sure if it has been recorded from southern Africa.

 
 

Mycobacterium "dassie bacillus"

Causes tuberculosis in Procavia capensis (Rock hyrax, Dassie). Research by Parsons et al. (2008) suggests high infection rates in some populations.

 
 

Mycobacterium pinnipedii

Causes tuberculosis in seals. Not sure if it has been recorded from southern Africa.

 
 

Mycobacterium tuberculosis

The main cause of human tuberculosis. The incidence of tuberculosis in South Africa is one of the highest in the world with over 400 000 reported cases per year (see tbsouthafrica.org). For more on tuberculosis, see Wikipedia and PubMed Health.

 

Mycobacterium ulcerans

Found in natural waters, soil, insects (including gerrid water bugs and mosquitoes), wild animals and fish (cited in Lukusa 2009). Causes infection of subcutaneous (under the skin) fat in humans, followed by ulceration of the skin, in a disease termed Buruli ulcer. This disease is particularly common in West Africa and there are also localised outbreaks in Victoria, Australia. I can find no references to it occurring in South Africa but presumably there have been a few cases. Buruli ulcer is the third most prevalent Mycobacterium disease globally after tuberculosis and leprosy. See Wikipedia and WHO Buruli ulcer: progress report, 2004–2008 for more.

 

Mycobacterium vaccae

A non-pathogenetic species that naturally occurs in the soil. There have been trials using dead Mycobacterium vaccae for immunotherapy against tuberculosis - results have been mixed with trials in South Africa not bearing positive results (Stanford et al. 2004).

 

Mycobacterium vanbaalenii

Recorded from soil in Japan (cited in Lukusa 2009).

 

Mycobacterium xenopi

Causes slow-growing Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease in humans. Recorded from natural surface water streams in Finland (cited in Lukusa 2009)  - don't know what its prevalence is in southern Africa.

 

Links

Publications (by date)

  • Tsukamura M, van der Meulen HJ, Grabow WOK. 1983. Numerical taxonomy of rapidly growing, scotochromogenic mycobacteria of the Mycobacterium parafortuitum complex: Mycobacterium austroafricanum sp. nov. and Mycobacterium diernhoferi sp. nov., nom. rev. International Journal of Systematic Bacteriology 33(3): 460-469.
  • Smith DS, Lindholm-Levy P, Huitt GA, Heifets LB, Cook JL. 2000. Mycobacterium terrae: case reports, literature review, and in vitro antibiotic susceptibility testing. Clinical Infectious Diseases 30(3): 444-453. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/313693
  • Stanford J, Stanford C, Grange J. 2004. Immunotherapy with Mycobacterium vaccae in the treatment of tuberculosis. Front. Biosci. 9: 1701-1719.
  • Ferreira NL, Maciel H, Mathis H, Monot F, Fayolle-Guichard F, Greer CW. 2006. Isolation and characterization of a new Mycobacterium austroafricanum strain, IFP 2015, growing on MTBE. Applied Microbial and Cell Physiology 70: 358-365. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00253-005-0074-y
  • Field SK, Cowie RL. 2006. Lung disease due to the more common nontuberculous Mycobacteria. Chest 129(6): 1653-1672. http://dx.doi.org/10.1378/chest.129.6.1653
  • Chege GK, Warren RM, van Pittius NCG, Burgers WA, Wilkinson RJ, Shephard EG, Williamson A. 2008. Detection of natural infection with Mycobacterium intracellulare in healthy wild-caught Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) by ESAT-6 and CFP-10 IFN-γ ELISPOT tests following a tuberculosis outbreak. BMC Microbiology 8:27 (9 pages) http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1471-2180-8-27
  • Parsons S, Smith SGD, Martins Q, Horsnell WGC, Gous TA, Streicher EM, Warren RM, van Helden PD, van Pittius NCG. 2008. Pulmonary infection due to the dassie bacillus (Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex sp.) in a free-living dassie (rock hyrax - Procavia capensis) from South Africa. Tuberculosis 88(1): 80-83. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tube.2007.08.012
  • Gutierrez MC, Supply P, Brosch R. 2009. Pathogenomics of Mycobacteria. Genome Dynamics 6: 198-210.
  • Kwenda G. 2010. Molecular characterisation and immunological analysis of clinical and environmental isolates of Mycobacterium kansasii from South African Gold Mines. Ph.D. thesis, University of the Witwatersrand. Download
  • Lukusa K. 2009. Isolation and identification of environmental mycobacteria and associated temperate phages. Unpublished M.Sc., University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Link
  • McShane H. 2011. Tuberculosis vaccines: beyond bacille Calmette-Guérin. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 366: 2782-2789. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2011.0097

Text by Hamish Robertson


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