Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mycobacterium abscessus isolated from municipal water - a potential source of human infection

Rachel Thomson1*, Carla Tolson2, Hanna Sidjabat3, Flavia Huygens4 and Megan Hargreaves5

Author Affiliations

1 Gallipoli Medical Research Centre, Greenslopes Private Hospital, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

2 QLD Mycobacterial Reference Laboratory, Pathology Queensland, RBWH Campus, Herston Rd, Herston, QLD 4006, Australia

3 University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, Herston Rd, Herston, QLD 4006, Australia

4 Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Kelvin Grove Campus, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD 4059, Australia

5 Queensland University of Technology, Faculty of Science and Technology, George Street, Brisbane, QLD 4001, Australia

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:241  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-241

Published: 25 May 2013



Mycobacterium abscessus is a rapidly growing mycobacterium responsible for progressive pulmonary disease, soft tissue and wound infections. The incidence of disease due to M. abscessus has been increasing in Queensland. In a study of Brisbane drinking water, M. abscessus was isolated from ten different locations.

The aim of this study was to compare genotypically the M. abscessus isolates obtained from water to those obtained from human clinical specimens.


Between 2007 and 2009, eleven isolates confirmed as M. abscessus were recovered from potable water, one strain was isolated from a rainwater tank and another from a swimming pool and two from domestic taps. Seventy-four clinical isolates referred during the same time period were available for comparison using rep-PCR strain typing (Diversilab).


The drinking water isolates formed two clusters with ≥97% genetic similarity (Water patterns 1 and 2). The tankwater isolate (WP4), one municipal water isolate (WP3) and the pool isolate (WP5) were distinctly different. Patient isolates formed clusters with all of the water isolates except for WP3. Further patient isolates were unrelated to the water isolates.


The high degree of similarity between strains of M. abscessus from potable water and strains causing infection in humans from the same geographical area, strengthens the possibility that drinking water may be the source of infection in these patients.