Emergence and spread of a human-transmissible multidrug-resistant nontuberculous mycobacterium

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Science  11 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6313, pp. 751-757
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8156

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Global spread of aggressive mycobacteria

Many mycobacteria, in addition to those causing leprosy and tuberculosis, are capable of infecting humans. Some can be particularly dangerous in patients suffering from immunosuppression or chronic disease, such as cystic fibrosis (CF). Bryant et al. observed clusters of near-identical isolates of drug-resistant Mycobacterium abscessus in patients reporting to CF clinics. The similarity of the isolates suggests transmission between patients, rather than environmental acquisition. Although this bacterium is renowned for its environmental resilience, the mechanism for its long-distance transmission among the global CF patient community remains a puzzle.

Science, this issue p. 751


Lung infections with Mycobacterium abscessus, a species of multidrug-resistant nontuberculous mycobacteria, are emerging as an important global threat to individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF), in whom M. abscessus accelerates inflammatory lung damage, leading to increased morbidity and mortality. Previously, M. abscessus was thought to be independently acquired by susceptible individuals from the environment. However, using whole-genome analysis of a global collection of clinical isolates, we show that the majority of M. abscessus infections are acquired through transmission, potentially via fomites and aerosols, of recently emerged dominant circulating clones that have spread globally. We demonstrate that these clones are associated with worse clinical outcomes, show increased virulence in cell-based and mouse infection models, and thus represent an urgent international infection challenge.

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