Mycobacterium Abscessus

What is Mycobacterium abscessus?

Mycobacterium abscessus is a bacterium distantly related to the ones that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. It is part of a group known as rapidly growing mycobacteria and is found in water, soil and dust. It has been known to contaminate medications and products, including medical devices.

What type of infection does it cause?

M. abscessus can cause a variety of serious infections that require medical attention. Infections due to this bacterium are usually of the skin and the soft tissues under the skin. It has been rarely known to cause lung infection in persons with various chronic lung diseases.

How can this infection be transmitted?

Infection with M. abscessus is usually caused by injections of substances contaminated with the bacterium or through invasive medical procedures employing contaminated equipment or material. Infection can also occur after accidental injury where the wound is contaminated by soil. It cannot be transmitted from person to person.

How do I know if I have an infection with M. abscessus?

A medical doctor should evaluate the infection to determine if it may be due to M. abscessus. Skin infected with M. abscessus, is usually red, warm, tender to the touch, swollen, and/or painful. Infected areas can also develop boils or pus-filled vesicles. Other signs of M. abscessus infection are fever, chills, muscle aches, and a general feeling of illness. However, for a definite diagnosis, the organism has to be cultured from the infection site.

How is this infection diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made by growing this bacterium in the laboratory from a sample of the pus or biopsy of the infected area. When the infection is severe the bacterium can be found in the blood and isolated from a blood sample. To make the diagnosis, your doctor will have to take a sample from the infected area and/or blood and send it to a laboratory for identification. It is important that persons who have any evidence of infection at a site where they received procedures, such as surgery or injections, let their doctors know, so the appropriate tests can be done.

How can M. abscessus infection be treated?

Treatment of infections due to M. abscessus consists of draining collections of pus and administering the appropriate combination of antibiotics for a prolonged period of time. Infection with this bacterium usually does not improve with the usual antibiotics used to treat skin infections. Testing the bacteria against different antibiotics is helpful in guiding doctors to the most appropriate treatment for each patient.

If I have this infection, can I transmit it to my family and friends?

No, there is very little risk of transmitting this infection to other people. You should wash your hands carefully with soap and water after touching or caring for the infected site.

How can I prevent an infection with this bacterium?

Avoid receiving procedures or injections by unlicensed persons and avoid receiving injections with products not licensed for use in this country.

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