“NTM” is short for Nontuberculous Mycobacteria. NTM lung disease is a devastating chronic illness.
NTM is a naturally occurring environmental pathogen which impacts tens of thousands of people every year in the United States alone. The bacteria are widely found in the environment, including soil and tap water, which means people can become infected through everyday activities such as showering and gardening. Nearly every water source contains NTM, and because water heater temperature standards are lower than needed to eliminate such pathogens, the concentration of NTM in tap water has increased.
NTM is not as well-known or understood as its mycobacterial cousin Tuberculosis. An estimated 50,000 to 90,000 people in the United States have pulmonary NTM disease at any given time, and between 12,000 and 18,000 people become infected each year. The rate of infection increases five-fold in patients over 65 years old, presenting a growing risk as the Baby Boomer population ages. The National Institutes of Health has found in a multi-state study of patients hospitalized with severe lung infections that incidence of NTM is on the rise in the United States.
Underlying pulmonary problems and prior pneumonia are but a few risk factors, and COPD as well as a number of genetic diseases including Cystic Fibrosis and Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency have a statistically demonstrable link with NTM. Slender Caucasian women are particularly vulnerable to infection.
It is now known that immunosuppressive medications such as chemotherapy, prednisone, or drugs used to treat conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, psoriasis and Crohn’s Disease, may increase the risk of NTM infection.