Common, usually harmless group of bacteria associated with higher death rates in kidney patients

A big group of bacteria found in our soil, our water and our shower heads are harmless for most of us, but a new study indicates they are associated with an increased risk of dying in individuals whose kidneys have failed.

In what appears to be the first study of its kind, investigators at the Medical College of Georgia and Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta looked in the United States Renal Data System at patients with end-stage renal disease, or ESRD, who also had a diagnosis of infection with the nontuberculous mycobacteria, or NTM, group.

They found a significant and independent increase in mortality with an NTM diagnosis in these patients, indicating that early diagnosis and treatment of an NTM infection may improve survival in ESRD patients, they report in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.

“It’s important to be alert that certain patients can be at higher risk for NTM and that NTM carries a risk for mortality,” says Stephanie L. Baer, MD, MCG infectious disease physician and chief of Infection Control and epidemiology at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.

These “opportunistic” pathogens, which have even been found in dialysis machines, tend to only cause serious problems when a patient has a compromised lung or immune system function.

Patients whose kidneys have failed are considered to have a compromised immune function and generally considered at higher risk of infection, so investigators at MCG and the VA wanted to better identify prevalence, risk factors as well as associated deaths in those who also had an NTM infection.

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