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Learn about Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM)

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.

Key Facts

  • Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are organisms naturally found in soil and water.
  • NTM infections can become chronic and require ongoing treatment. Some patients, however, do not require treatment for their less severe infections.
  • Treatment of NTM requires antibiotics for at least 12 months.

What Is NTM?

NTM are mycobacteria found throughout nature in water and soil. NTM represent over 180 different species and subspecies, most of which do not seem to cause human disease except in individuals who are susceptible.

How NTM Affects Your Body

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, shortness of breath, fatigue, and weight loss.

How Serious Are NTM

There are over 80,000 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 rare.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Last updated April 4, 2018.

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