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Facts About...

Information to Acupuncture Clients

What is it?

Mycobacterium abscessus (M. abscessus) is a bacteria commonly found in the environment. It has been found in water, soil, and dust, as well as in animals.

What illnesses can it cause?

M. abscessus rarely causes illness in humans. On occasion it can cause skin abscesses, post-surgical wound infection and very rarely can cause serious lung disease. Many cases have involved contaminated injectable medication or medical devices. Although most people get sick within one month of exposure to M. abscessus, some people don't get sick for many months.

Who is at risk of developing infection with it?

People of all ages are at risk. Although healthy people occasionally develop infections with these bacteria, the disease may be more severe in people with weakened immune systems.

How is it spread?

M. abscessus is not spread directly from person to person. It causes illness most frequently when it gets into a wound or contaminates injectable medication or medical devices that are placed under the skin. Clusters of cases of M. abscessus infection have been associated with: contaminated water; a contaminated surgical instrument and injectable medication.

What symptoms can I experience if I become infected with it?

The type of illness will depend on the infection site. Individuals with skin sores or abscesses due to M. abscessus will initially experience painless nodules that become red, swollen and painful. Ulcers on the nodules may appear that will drain small amounts of liquid and become itchy. In some cases fever and chills may also occur.

What should I do if I have these symptoms?

If you have pain, tenderness, or redness or if you have fever, go to see your doctor. It is important to tell your doctor that you might be infected with M. abscessus. Give your doctor the enclosed fact sheet that will explain this infection.

How can I find out if I am infected with it?

Your doctor may perform some tests to determine if you are infected with M. abscessus. This may include sending liquid from the wound or a small piece of tissue to the lab to detect this bacteria.

How is this infection treated?

Sores or abscesses may be drained to help cure infections with M. abscessus. Surgery is rarely necessary. In addition, your doctor may place you on antibiotics for up to 6 months to cure your infection. This long period is needed because M. abscessus is a slow growing bacteria.

More information can be obtained from

Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Help Line 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613

April 22, 2013