Atypical Mycobacterial Infection Clinical Presentation

Updated: Feb 07, 2018
  • Author: Arry Dieudonne, MD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
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Suppurative cervical or submandibular lymphadenopathy that produces or does not produce systemic symptoms is the most common presentation of atypical mycobacterial infection caused by M avium-intracellulare and M scrofulaceum in the immunocompetent pediatric host. In a cohort of children infected with HIV prospectively monitored by Hoyt et al in 1992, recurrent and persistent fever and chronic anemia were the most common signs and symptoms, followed by chronic diarrhea and a history of recurrent abdominal pain with disseminated M avium complex (MAC) disease [38, 40, 41]

Weight loss, failure to gain weight, and wasting syndrome are part of the long-term presentations of disseminated MAC disease in immunocompromised children. Other signs and symptoms include leukopenia, hepatosplenomegaly, and persistent generalized lymphadenopathies. Ulcerative lesions of the colon and mesenteric disease with abscess formation have been reported. [41, 42, 43] Primary cutaneous infections with MAC are rare; most cases are caused by dissemination, with manifestations including scaling plaques, crusted ulcers, ecthymalike lesions, verrucous ulcers, inflammatory nodules, panniculitis, pustular lesions, and draining sinuses. [44]

Buruli ulcer is a chronic ulcerative skin disease, caused by M ulcerans, that mostly affects the limbs. The lack of acute inflammatory response is typical and is likely due to an immunosuppressive toxin called mycolactone, which is produced by mycobacteria. [26, 25] Buruli ulcer mainly affects children living in humid areas of the tropical rain forest. Following a microinjury, the organism penetrates the skin. A subcutaneous nodule develops a few weeks later, followed by necrosis of the subcutaneous fat and finally by a large dermal ulceration. Constitutional symptoms are normally absent.

Atypical mycobacteria may cause skeletal infections. A large outbreak of spinal infections after discovertebral surgery was reported in 2001. [45] Tenosynovitis, multifocal osteomyelitis, septic arthritis, protracted carpal tunnel syndrome, and spondylitis implicating M chelonae, Mycobacterium kansasii, MAC, or Mycobacterium xenopi have been described in the literature. [46, 47, 48, 49, 50] Keratitis and endophthalmitis after intravitreous injection of steroids or other ophthalmoscopic procedures secondary to M chelonae invasion have been reported. Although most of those infections secondary to atypical mycobacteria have been described in the adult population, cases of cutaneous mycobacteriosis manifesting as cellulitis, skin abscess, or sporotrichoid lesions secondary to M chelonae abscessus and M kansasii have been reported. M kansaii and M marinum have been reported in aquariumworkers. [51, 52] M avium– associatedtyphlitis mimicking appendicitis has been described in an immunocompetent host. [53]

Catheter-related infections are the most common nosocomial nontuberculous mycobacterial infections encountered. The fast-growing atypical mycobacteria, such as M fortuitum, cause most catheter-related infections. Patients with long-term central intravenous catheters are most susceptible. However, infections have occurred in patients with peritoneal and shunt catheters. Local catheter site drainage; tunnel infections; and mycobacteremia, with or without fever, are the usual manifestations, but granulomatous hepatitis and, sometimes, pulmonary infiltrates have been observed. Case reports of atypical mycobacterial infection in transplant patients due to M chelonae and M xenopi have been described in the medical literature. [54, 55]

Wright et al report 18 cases of infection associated with laparoscopic gastric banding caused by Mycobacterium fortuitum and M. abscessus in Australia during 2005–2011. The authors identified cases by reviewing positive cultures at the Queensland state reference laboratory or through correspondence with clinicians, and obtained clinical and epidemiologic data. Eleven cases of M. fortuitum and 7 cases of M. abscessus infection were identified. The port was thought to be the primary site of infection in 10 of these cases. Complications included peritonitis, band erosion, and chronic ulceration at the port site. Rapidly growing mycobacteria can infect both port and band and can occur as either an early perioperative or late infection. Combination antimicrobial therapy is used on the basis of in vitro susceptibilities. The authors concluded that device removal seemed to be vital to successful therapy. [56, 57]




Immunocompetent children with adenitis secondary to MAC present with suppurative adenitis that may or may not produce constitutional symptoms such as fever. Fistula may be present with coalescence of involved cervical or mandibular nodes. In immunocompromised children with HIV/AIDS, no pathognomonic signs are present. Physical examination may reveal that a debilitated patient has a history of failure to gain weight, chronic fatigue, chronic diarrhea, and recurrent abdominal pain. Hepatosplenomegaly may be present. Early during disseminated MAC disease, some patients may not have fever and may not appear acutely or chronically ill. [58]



Numerous atypical mycobacterial infections are known. The most common forms of diseases are chronic pulmonary disease resembling tuberculosis (occurring mainly in adults), cervical adenopathy in children, skin and soft tissue infections, and disseminated disease in immunocompromised persons. [7, 16] Lymphadenitis is the most common manifestation in children. [7, 23] However, progressive immunodeficiency due to infection with HIV appears to be the most significant factor for disseminated MAC disease. [59, 16, 60]

A unique MAC syndrome that develops in patients with AIDS in the first 1-2 months following the initiation of HAART has been described by 3 groups of investigators. [61, 62, 63, 64] The symptom consists of fever and focal MAC lymphadenitis, with a blood culture negative for mycobacteria in most cases. The symptom is also known as immune reconstitution syndrome. It may occur in patients who already had subclinical MAC disease that becomes unmasked by HAART. The atypical mycobacteria observed in children are M avium-intracellulare complex, M scrofulaceum, and, rarely observed in children with AIDS, M kansasii.

Mycobacterium marinum is the causative agent of swimming pool granuloma. However, both rapidly growing and slow-growing species of NTM have been implicated in chronic granulomatous infections. Those infections mostly involve tendon sheaths, bursae, bones, and joints after direct inoculation through accidental trauma, surgical incisions, or puncture wounds. [3, 65] Tenosynovitis of the hand secondary to MAC and M marinum has been described. Osteomyelitis of the sternum caused by M abscessus has been found in clustered and sporadic outbreaks. M fortuitum and M chelonae strains, also known as the rapidly growing organisms, have occasionally been implicated in wound, soft tissue, pulmonary, and middle ear infections. [66, 7]

A population-based study by Marras et al that included data from 417,494 patients 66 years of age and older who have been treated for COPD, asthma, or both reported that adjusted odds ratios for NTM pulmonary disease were statistically significant for current inhaled corticosteroids use overall (AOR, 1.86). Adjusted odds ratio was statically significant for fluticasone (AOR, 2.09). [67]