What is Mycobacteria?
Mycobacteria are types of bacteria belonging to the Order Actinomycetales and Family Mycobacteriaceae. There are more than 70 species of this genus of bacteria, but the two most common and major pathogens are Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the one that causes T.B.) and Mycobacterium leprae (the one that causes leprosy).
Most mycobacteria can be classified into two major types namely, slow-growing and fast-growing bacteria. Both these types though have more or less the same characteristics. They both typically live in water and other food sources making them widespread. Infections from these bacteria are very difficult to contain and may not be very responsive to various treatments. It is also common that they colonize their “hosts” (human bodies) without showing any signs or symptoms.
As for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, about 8-12 million are infected each year, with 2-3 million of them dying. Among the countries of the world, South Africa has the highest incidence of TB infection, with 35 people dying each day succumbing to the disease. Tuberculosis is known and feared for it is a chronic and infectious disease commonly affecting the lungs. Persons who have TB commonly demonstrate weight loss, night sweats, and chronic cough.
For leprosy caused by Mycobacterium leprae, about 600,000 cases are reported each year, with males being affected more than females on a 2:1 ratio. This mycobacterium is not highly infectious though, but is commonly transmitted in household contacts or inhalation of the infectious organism. In leprosy, the skin, mucous membranes, and peripheral nerves are affected which usually leads to some deformity.
Other mycobacteria that cause illnesses are: M. avium complex which can be found in patients with AIDS, M. avium paratuberculosis present in those with Crohn’s disease, M. chelonae which cause wound infections through water contact, and various others which are treated with powerful antibiotics. Some strains though show no response to antibiotic treatment.
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