The Rise of Non-Tuberculosis Mycobacterial Lung Disease

Front Immunol. 2020 Mar 3:11:303. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.00303. eCollection 2020.


The incidence and number of deaths from non-tuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) disease have been steadily increasing globally. These lesser known "cousins" of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) were once thought to be harmless environmental saprophytics and only dangerous to individuals with defective lung structure or the immunosuppressed. However, NTM are now commonly infecting seemingly immune competent children and adults at increasing rates through pulmonary infection. This is of concern as the pathology of NTM is difficult to treat. Indeed, NTM have become extremely antibiotic resistant, and now have been found to be internationally dispersed through person-to-person contact. The reasons behind this NTM increase are only beginning to be elucidated. Solutions to the problem are needed given NTM disease is more common in the tropics. Importantly, 40% of the world's population live in the tropics and due to climate change, the Tropics are expanding which will increase NTM infection regions. This review catalogs the global and economic disease burden, at risk populations, treatment options, host-bacterial interaction, immune dynamics, recent developments and research priorities for NTM disease.

Keywords: Non-tuberculous mycobacteria; immunology; mycobacteria; mycobacteria pathology; pulmonary infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Climate Change
  • Cost of Illness
  • Global Health
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / economics
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / epidemiology*
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / immunology
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous / microbiology
  • Opportunistic Infections / economics
  • Opportunistic Infections / epidemiology
  • Opportunistic Infections / immunology
  • Opportunistic Infections / microbiology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / economics
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / immunology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Research
  • Risk
  • Sex Distribution
  • Tropical Climate
  • Water Microbiology