Objective: To collect data on non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) isolated from clinical laboratories in different countries to establish: 1) whether the isolation of NTM was increasing, 2) which species were increasing, and 3) whether there was any pattern of geographical distribution.
Design: In 1996, the Working Group of the Bacteriology and Immunology Section of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease contacted 50 laboratories in different countries for the necessary information.
Results: The number of patients reported with NTM was 36099 from 14 countries. Mycobacterium avium complex, M. gordonae, M. xenopi, M. kansasii and M. fortuitum were the five species most frequently isolated. There was a significant upward trend for M. avium complex and M. xenopi. Pigmented mycobacteria predominated in Belgium, the Czech Republic and the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Non-chromogenic mycobacteria were found to be predominant in the area of the Atlantic coast of Brazil and in Turkey, the United Kingdom, Finland and Denmark.
Conclusions: There was an increase in the number of NTM isolated from clinical samples of patients. Isolation of the most frequent species is constantly changing in most of the geographical areas, and newer species are emerging due to better diagnostic techniques to detect and identify NTM.