Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Isolation of non-tuberculous mycobacteria from pastoral ecosystems of Uganda: Public Health significance

Clovice Kankya12*, Adrian Muwonge2, Berit Djønne3, Musso Munyeme24, John Opuda-Asibo1, Eystein Skjerve2, James Oloya1, Vigdis Edvardsen3 and Tone B Johansen3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Veterinary Public Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, Makerere University, P.O. Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda

2 Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, P.O. Box 8146 Dep., 0033 Oslo, Norway

3 Norwegian Veterinary Institute, P.O. Box 750, N-0106 Oslo, Norway

4 Department of Disease Control, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Zambia, P.O. Box 32379, Lusaka, Zambia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:320  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-320

Published: 16 May 2011



The importance of non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) infections in humans and animals in sub-Saharan Africa at the human-environment-livestock-wildlife interface has recently received increased attention. NTM are environmental opportunistic pathogens of humans and animals. Recent studies in pastoral ecosystems of Uganda detected NTM in humans with cervical lymphadenitis and cattle with lesions compatible with bovine tuberculosis. However, little is known about the source of these mycobacteria in Uganda. The aim of this study was to isolate and identify NTM in the environment of pastoral communities in Uganda, as well as assess the potential risk factors and the public health significance of NTM in these ecosystems.


A total of 310 samples (soil, water and faecal from cattle and pigs) were examined for mycobacteria. Isolates were identified by the INNO-Lipa test and by 16S rDNA sequencing. Additionally, a questionnaire survey involving 231 pastoralists was conducted during sample collection. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics followed by a multivariable logistic regression analysis.


Forty-eight isolates of NTM were detected; 25.3% of soil samples, 11.8% of water and 9.1% from animal faecal samples contained mycobacteria. Soils around water sources were the most contaminated with NTM (29.8%). Of these samples, M. fortuitum-peregrinum complex, M. avium complex, M. gordonae, and M. nonchromogenicum were the most frequently detected mycobacteria. Drinking untreated compared to treated water (OR = 33), use of valley dam versus stream water for drinking and other domestic use (OR = 20), sharing of water sources with wild primates compared to antelopes (OR = 4.6), sharing of water sources with domestic animals (OR = 5.3), and close contact with cattle or other domestic animals (OR = 13.8) were the most plausible risk factors for humans to come in contact with NTM in the environment.


The study detected a wide range of potentially pathogenic NTM from the environment around the pastoral communities in Uganda. Drinking untreated water and living in close contact with cattle or other domestic animals may be risk factors associated with the possibility of humans and animals acquiring NTM infections from these ecosystems.