Atypical mycobacteria are a group of bacteria that are widely distributed in nature. They can be found in water, soil, animals and man, usually without evidence of disease.
Patients with disease caused by atypical mycobacteria commonly present with respiratory symptoms, such as cough and increased sputum production, and abnormalities on the chest x-ray. Patients may also experience fever, weakness, and weight loss. An altered immune system, underlying illness or tissue damage may make a person more likely to develop disease if infected with atypical mycobacteria.
Many people become infected with and harbor atypical mycobacteria in their respiratory secretions without any symptoms or evidence of disease. In some individuals, however, infection with these organisms may result in disease involving the lungs, skin, or lymph nodes. These organisms may also infect open wounds.
The outcome depends upon the severity of the infection, the person's overall health, and their response to treatment.
Treatment of the infection depends upon the specific type of infection. As many as four to six drugs may be used to treat some infections. Treatment may last 6 months to 2 years, possibly longer in those with weakened immune systems. Certain lymph node infections and skin lesions can be surgically removed.