Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are naturally-occurring organisms found in water and soil. NTM lung infection occurs when a person inhales the organism from their environment. Most people do not become ill but for some susceptible individuals, a slowly progressive and destructive disease can occur.
NTM are mycobacteria found throughout nature in water and soil. NTM represent over 150 different species, most of which do not seem to cause human disease except in individuals with a weak immune system.
Exposure to environmental sources of NTM can lead to NTM entering the lungs. In most individuals, the NTM organisms are cleared from the lung naturally and do not cause infection. In some people, the organism infects the airways and lung tissue leading to disease. This causes inflammation in the respiratory system. Without treatment, many people, but not all, will develop a progressive lung infection characterized by cough, fatigue, and often weight loss.
There are about 50,000 to 90,000 people with NTM pulmonary disease in the United States, with a much higher frequency in older adults. However, NTM can affect any age group. In some people NTM infections can become chronic and require ongoing treatment. Severe NTM lung disease can have a significant impact on quality of life. Death directly related to NTM lung disease is relatively rare.