Massive and Lengthy Clonal Nosocomial Expansion of Mycobacterium abscessus subsp. massiliense among Patients Who Are Ventilator Dependent without Cystic Fibrosis

Microbiol Spectr. 2023 Aug 17;11(4):e0490822. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.04908-22. Epub 2023 Jun 14.


Nontuberculous mycobacterial infections are generally believed to be independently acquired from the environment. Although person-to-person transmission of nontuberculous mycobacteria, especially Mycobacterium abscessus subsp. massiliense, is a serious concern among individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF), evidence of its spread among patients without CF has never been established. We unexpectedly found a number of M. abscessus subsp. massiliense cases among patients without CF in a hospital. This study aimed to define the mechanism of M. abscessus subsp. massiliense infection among patients who were ventilator dependent and without CF who had progressive neurodegenerative diseases in our long-term care wards from 2014 to 2018 during suspected nosocomial outbreaks. We conducted whole-genome sequencing of M. abscessus subsp. massiliense isolates from 52 patients and environmental samples. Potential opportunities for in-hospital transmission were analyzed using epidemiological data. M. abscessus subsp. massiliense was isolated from one air sample obtained near a patient without CF who was colonized with M. abscessus subsp. massiliense but not from other potential sources. Phylogenetic analysis of the strains from these patients and the environmental isolate revealed clonal expansion of near-identical M. abscessus subsp. massiliense isolates, with the isolates generally differing by fewer than 22 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Approximately half of the isolates differed by fewer than nine SNPs, indicating interpatient transmission. Whole-genome sequencing revealed a potential nosocomial outbreak among patients who were ventilator dependent and without CF. IMPORTANCE The isolation of M. abscessus subsp. massiliense from the air, but not from environmental fluid samples, may suggest airborne transmission. This was the first report to demonstrate person-to-person transmission of M. abscessus subsp. massiliense, even among patients without CF. M. abscessus subsp. massiliense may spread among patients who are ventilator dependent without CF through direct or indirect in-hospital transmission. The current infection control measures should address potential transmission among patients without CF, particularly in facilities that treat patients who are ventilator dependent and patients with preexisting chronic pulmonary diseases, such as CF.

Keywords: Mycobacterium abscessus subsp. massiliense; nontuberculous mycobacteria; progressive neurodegenerative disease; transmission; whole-genome sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection* / epidemiology
  • Cystic Fibrosis* / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous* / epidemiology
  • Mycobacterium Infections, Nontuberculous* / microbiology
  • Mycobacterium abscessus* / genetics
  • Nontuberculous Mycobacteria
  • Phylogeny
  • Ventilators, Mechanical