What is Mycobacterium Avium Complex?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) is an infection caused by bacteria in the genus Mycobacterium which can strike immunocompromised patients such as people with HIV/AIDS, cancer patients, and individuals with other types of conditions which weaken the immune system. This infection can be very dangerous in some patients, and requires prompt and aggressive treatment, which may include hospitalization, depending on the patient and the specifics of the situation. A doctor can diagnose MAC with the assistance of a sample taken for culture to determine whether or not bacteria are present.

Two bacteria are commonly behind mycobacterium avium complex: M. avium and M. intracellulare. These bacteria are widespread in the natural environment, and people are exposed to them regularly, but they are usually able to fight them off. For people with compromised immune systems, however, when the bacteria are inhaled or ingested, they can colonize and potentially spread to other areas of the body because the body is not strong enough to recognize and repel the bacteria.

Signs that someone may have mycobacterium avium complex include fatigue, weakness, headaches, weight loss, fever, and anemia. If the bacteria are in the lungs, the patient may cough or have difficulty breathing, while if they have settled in the gastrointestinal tract, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can occur. Appearance of these symptoms in someone with a compromised immune system is a cause for concern.


A doctor can conduct a patient interview to learn more about the symptoms and the patient's history for the purpose of diagnosing mycobacterium avium complex. It can take up to two weeks for culture results to be returned, so a doctor may recommend starting treatment right away to get a head start on the disease, as waiting for confirmation may take too long. The recommendations depend on the patient and the specifics of the individual case.

Mycobacterium avium complex has a tendency to become drug resistant very easily. This is a cause for concern when administering medications, because it means that a patient could develop resistance during treatment. For this reason, multidrug therapy is often used in the treatment of mycobacterium avium complex, with the goal of knocking the bacteria out of the body before they have a chance to develop resistance and pass it on to others.

The drugs used vary, depending on the doctor's experience with treatment, prevailing protocols in the region, and other factors. Patients can always receive a second opinion if they feel like a recommended course of treatment may not be the best choice.


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Post 1

Pass the bacteria on to others? I am told that this disease is not contagious human to human?

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