The pathogenic mycobacteria

Most mycobacteria are environmental saprophytes but the two major pathogenic species, M. tuberculosis and M. leprae, are amongst the most important pathogens of humans. There are 8-10 million new cases of tuberculosis in the world each year, of which about 3 million die, and this figure is growing with the increased incidence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Similarly, there are between 10 and 15 million cases of leprosy. The major pathogens in the slow-growing subgenus are M. tuberculosis (and the related organisms M. africanum, M. bovis and M. microti, which infects rodents), M. avium (and the related M. lepraemurium which causes a leprosy-like disease in rodents, and M. paratuberculosis which infects the bowels of cattle), M. intracellular, M. scrofulaceum, M. kansasii and M. ulcerans (the cause of Buruli ulcer). Several members of the fast-growing subgenus can cause infections but these are usually opportunistic or abscesses. Relevant species include M. chelonei and M. fortuitum.

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