Mycobacterial aerosols and respiratory disease
Environmental opportunistic mycobacteria, including Mycobacterium avium, M. terrae, and the new species M. immunogenum, have been implicated in outbreaks of hypersensitivity pneumonitis or respiratory problems in a wide variety of settings. One common feature of the outbreaks has been exposure to aerosols. Aerosols have been generated from metalworking fluid during machining and grinding operations as well as from indoor swimming pools, hot tubs, and water-damaged buildings. Environmental opportunistic mycobacteria are present in drinking water, resistant to disinfection, able to provoke inflammatory reactions, and readily aerosolized. In all outbreaks, the water sources of the aerosols were disinfected. Disinfection may select for the predominance and growth of mycobacteria. Therefore, mycobacteria may be responsible, in part, for many outbreaks of hypersensitivity pneumonitis and other respiratory problems in the workplace and home.