Information About Mycobacteria Testing

Submitted on March 27, 2012

What are Mycobacterium?

Living and fossil organisms are classified by using a genus - a taxonomic unit. The term comes from Latin term that is genus meaning descent, type, family, gender. Whereas the word Mycobacterium is coined from the Latin word “myco” this means fungus or wax. Mycobacteria come from the mycobacteriaceae family. Mycobacterium are organisms that need an oxygenated environment to survive, are usually non motile, and are generally considered to be gram positive, that is they are stained dark blue or violet by Gram staining. Mycobacteria can be put into several major groups for purpose of diagnosis and treatment: mycobacterium tuberculosis complex, which can cause tuberculosis, while some other types of Mycobacterium cause leprosy, pulmonary disease resembling tuberculosis, and some types of skin diseases.

Reasons Why Mycobacterium Testing is Done

The Mycobacterium testing is of importance because it is widely known that the Mycobacteria are one of the major causes of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Mycobacteria usually affect a person's lungs, kidneys, spine or brain, and sometimes Mycobacterium tuberculosis may even cause death. Mycobacterium abscessus is another dangerous bacterium known to cause both leprosy and tuberculosis and it is most commonly found in soil, water, and dust.


Mycobacterium testing is done usually by either the agar proportion method or the radioactive BACTEC method. However the presence of mycobacteria in mucus or phlegm is a way of diagnosing for tuberculosis in humans. It is also known that the bacteria grow at a slow rate which may take weeks. If Niacin or nicotinic acid is produced, this is usually sufficient to distinguish Mycobacteria tuberculosis from the other types of Mycobacteria. The Mycobacteria tuberculosis can be transmitted from person to person and often affects healthy individuals as well as individuals with a lower immunity.

In order to differentiate between different strains of Mycobacteria there are some phenotypic tests available. Acid phosphatase, Cataclase, Citrate are some of the names of the tests that are used commonly. Mycobacterium avium which is one type of Mycobacterium affects patients with low immunity levels like aids patients. On an average, 1 in 5 tuberculosis patients suffer from AIDS, and hence this is also known to be a dangerous type of mycobacterium. Mycobacterium leprae is the cause of leprosy in humans which infects the skin, grows at low temperature, and causes disfiguring of the face or limbs in human beings.


Prevention of Mycobacterium caused diseases includes vaccination in children in the form of BCG dose and rifampicin dosage which is particularly useful against acquired leprosy.