Atypical Mycobacterial Diseases Treatment & Management

Updated: Nov 12, 2019
  • Author: Erisa Alia, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

A diagnosis of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease does not necessitate prompt initiation of antibiotic therapy. This decision should be made based on the potential risks and benefits of a prolonged course of treatment with multiple antibiotics. Initiation of NTM treatment should be individualized based on disease type, comorbid conditions, and patient age. [4]

Therapy of skin and soft-tissue NTM infections varies depending on the causative organism. [84] Initial empiric treatment with clarithromycin can be considered while awaiting culture and sensitivity results in patients with high suspicion and clinical presentations suggestive of cutaneous NTM infection. The optimal treatment regimen and length are not well established. As a general rule, deeper infections may require 6 or more months of treatment.

Patients with atypical mycobacteria infections can be treated as outpatients after appropriate surgery has been performed.


Medical Care

Infections with atypical mycobacteria can be treated with a variety of antibiotics. It is important to note that the choice of the regimen reflects more the personal experience and preference of the physician. Since most of the nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) species demonstrate strong resistance to multiple antimicrobial agents, treatment of NTM infections and establishment of an effective regimen remain challenging. [85] In specific cases, the results of susceptibility tests help guide the decision.

M avium complex lung disease

American Thoracic Society/Infectious Diseases Society of America (ATS/IDSA) clinical guidelines recommend an initial regimen of three drugs: a macrolide (clarithromycin or azithromycin), ethambutol, and rifampin. The ideal duration of treatment is 12 months after achieving culture conversion. [4]

M avium complex prevention of disseminated infection in HIV-infected patients

Recommended therapy is azithromycin at 1200 mg orally weekly. Alternatives are clarithromycin at 500 mL orally twice daily or rifabutin at 300 mg orally daily.

M kansasii infection

In rifampin-susceptible strains, a four-drug regimen is recommended, including rifampin, ethambutol, isoniazid, and pyridoxine. The ideal duration is 12 months after achieving culture conversion.

In rifampin-resistant strains, a three-drug regimen is recommended, combining in higher doses clarithromycin or azithromycin, moxifloxacin, isoniazid, ethambutol, sulfamethoxazole, or streptomycin.

M marinum infection

This organism is susceptible to clarithromycin, minocycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, rifampin, rifabutin, and ethambutol. It is resistant to isoniazid and pyrazinamide.

Excellent outcomes in deep infections have been reported with clarithromycin plus rifampin or ethambutol. [67]

M ulcerans infection

Medical therapy for M ulcerans infection has been disappointing. Rifampin in combination with clarithromycin for at least 6-8 weeks may be the best choice for controlling complications of the ulcer.

M haemophilum infection

Currently, there exists no standardized susceptibility test for M haemophilum. Even though there is no optimal therapy, multidrug regimens including clarithromycin, rifampin, rifabutin, ciprofloxacin, or amikacin have proven to be efficacious.

M scrofulaceum

There is no standard treatment regimen, but the most effective proven regimen is the combination of isoniazid with clarithromycin or rifampin.

Rapidly growing mycobacteria infections (M fortuitum, M chelonae, M abscessus)

M fortuitum is susceptible to ciprofloxacin and ofloxacin, amikacin, sulfonamides, imipenem, clarithromycin, cefoxitin, and doxycycline. For serious infections, use at least two agents.

M chelonae can be treated with clarithromycin and a second agent chosen from linezolid, imipenem, tobramycin, or amikacin.

M abscessus complex group bacteria are the most difficult rapidly growing mycobacteria to treat, owing to their resistance to multiple standard antituberculous drugs. Treatment options include clarithromycin or azithromycin, with the addition of amikacin, cefoxitin, or imipenem for serious and complicated infections.


Surgical Care

A combined therapeutic approach, including surgical drainage, debridement, excision, and a prolonged (>3 mo) treatment with combined antimicrobial agents, remains a mainstream in some cases of atypical mycobacteria infection.

A 2019 retrospective study in Taiwan concluded that surgical resection of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) solitary pulmonary nodules is curative in asymptomatic patients without positive culture of the same NTM species from respiratory specimens and a history of NTM pulmonary disease. Further medical treatment for NTM will probably not be necessary. [86]

Selective cervical lymphadenectomy leads to a quick resolution of NTM cervicofacial lymphadenitis in children. [87]

Split-thickness skin grafting has been successfully used to cover large wounds. Grafting did not appear to foster recurrent infection.



Consultations with infectious disease specialists, surgeons, dermatologists, clinical microbiologists, and pulmonary specialists may be necessary.



Patients should avoid contaminant material and injections with contaminated materials. Patients should also avoid contaminated water.


Long-Term Monitoring

Patients must be aware of the needed prolonged courses of antibiotics and the importance of compliance. Lack of the compliance results in treatment failure and higher resistance and a more prolonged course of further therapy.