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New Molecular Assays Identify NTM

On February 1, 2013, National Jewish Health Advanced Diagnostic Laboratories began utilizing molecular assays, including rpoB and 16S rRNA gene sequencing, for the accurate identification of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) and other organisms.

Molecular assays for erm(41) and hsp65 genes are also being used for additional distinction within the group Mycobacterium abscessus. This distinction is especially important since M. massiliense, a member of the M. abscessus group, has a better clinical outcome compared to M. abscessus and can be treated with oral antibiotics only.

NTM represent a broad array of organisms that have been isolated from soil and water. Exposure to these reservoirs is thought to be the source of human infection. The past decade has seen not only a remarkable expansion of new NTM species, but also an increase in the frequency of isolation of NTM. There are currently more than 150 NTM species, at least 40 of which are associated with lung infection.

Prevalence of NTM continues to increase, especially in senior and immunocompromised populations. Identifying the organism to the species level is paramount, as different mycobacterial diseases are treated with different drug regimens.

With the introduction of these molecular assays, the mycobacteriology laboratory team continues its tradition of helping the health care providers to care for their patients with difficult to treat NTM infections utilizing advanced technology.