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What Is Mycobacterium Abscessus?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 13 March 2014
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Mycobacterium abscessus is a mycobacterium of the same genus as the microbes that cause the diseases leprosy and tuberculosis. While this mycobacterium can infect various parts of the body, it usually infects the skin and the tissues beneath the skin. These mycobacteria are typically found in water and soil. Mycobacterim abscessus infection is generally spread through contact with contaminated soil, water, or objects. Mycobacterium abscessus is not considered contagious from person to person, and usually enters the body through a break in the skin.

Infections with Mycobacterium abscessus can often cause serious symptoms. These mycobacteria mostly infect the skin, but can, in rare cases, infect the lungs, especially in those with a history of chronic lung afflictions. It usually spreads through direct physical contact with contaminated areas, rather than through person-to-person contact. Infected persons are, however, generally advised to keep the infection site clean and wash their hands frequently, to avoid bacterial contamination of the environment.

Chronic respiratory conditions, open wounds and lowered immunity are some of the primary risk factors for the contraction of this mycobacterial infection. Mycobacterium abscessus can contaminate medical implements, including hypodermic syringes, so that it often infects those who receive injections or surgical procedures in improperly sanitized surroundings. Persons infected with Mycobacterium abscessus are generally advised to inform the diagnosing physician of the nature and location of any recent procedures. In this manner, hospitals and clinics can be warned of the possibility that their equipment may be contaminated with Mycobacterium abscessus.

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The bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium abscessus usually causes skin symptoms, including redness, swelling, and pain. The infected area may be warm. Boils, or subcutaneous nodules filled with pus, may form. More generalized symptoms can include feelings of malaise, chills, fever, and muscle aches. In severe cases of Mycobacterium abscessus infection, the mycobacterium can enter the bloodstream and lead to systemic infection.

A definitive diagnosis of Mycobacterium abscesses can often be made by culturing pus from an infected boil, or by examining a biopsy sample of infected skin. Antibiotics can be prescribed to treat this infection, but are often effective only after prolonged use. While antibiotics are usually necessary to combat Mycobacterium abscessus infection, treatment can also involve cleaning pus from infected boils and even surgically excising infected tissue.

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