TB-like infection less transmissible than thought, study finds

Harvard researchers may have debunked a theory about a drug-resistant pathogen linked to severe lung infections, which was previously thought to spread person-to-person. 

A new study of 483 patient isolates, published in PNAS, showed that the pathogen, Mycobacterium abscessus, is more likely to be transmitted at home or due to other environmental factors. The bacterium is similar to tuberculosis and leprosy and has been increasing as a cause for lung infections in vulnerable populations, but rarely causes harm to healthy individuals, according to a May 30 Harvard news release.

"Our results certainly do not refute the possibility of person-to-person transmission of Mycobacterium abscessus in some cases, and more research is needed to inform [the] best clinical practice for vulnerable patients," Maha Farhat, MD, lead author of the study, pulmonary expert and associate professor at Harvard Medical School said. "However, our work supports a model in which person-to-person transmission may not be as common as it is sometimes suggested to be."

The findings shed light on a pathogen that has been "poorly understood" in the past, according to the release. Follow-up studies on it are in the works.

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