Nontuberculous Mycobacteria: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment of Infection

What are Nontuberculous Mycobacteria

Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are a group of bacteria found naturally in soil and water. They can cause a variety of illnesses or infections in humans, including lung and skin diseases.

Causes of Nontuberculous Mycobacteria Infection

NTM can cause both opportunistic infections, which occur in people with weakened immune systems, and primary infections, which can cause serious illness. Possible causes of infection include direct contact with water or soil and contact with people who have been infected.

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Symptoms of Nontuberculous Mycobacteria Infection

Symptoms vary depending on the type of infection, but can include:

  • Pulmonary NTM Infection: chest pain, coughing with bloody mucus, difficulty breathing, fatigue and fever
  • Skin NTM Infection: lumps or nodules, skin ulcers, redness and swelling
  • Gastrointestinal NTM Infection: abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea and nausea

Diagnosis & Treatment of Nontuberculous Mycobacteria


If a person is experiencing symptoms of an NTM infection, their doctor will take a medical history and physical examination. They may also order laboratory tests to look for bacteria in sputum or tissue samples.


Treatment for NTM depends on the type and severity of the infection. The mainstay of treatment is antibiotics, usually given over the course of many months or even years. Surgery may also be necessary in some cases.

Health and Prevention of Nontuberculous Mycobacteria

Infections caused by NTM are typically not spread from person to person. To prevent infection, it is important to practice good hygiene and to avoid contact with soil and water known to contain NTM. People with weakened immune systems should be especially vigilant in taking preventive steps and avoiding contact with known contaminated sources.

By practicing good hygiene, following preventive steps and talking to your doctor about any symptoms, you can protect your health and lower your risk of NTM infection.

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