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Who Is at Risk?

Everyone comes into contact with nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) bacteria during their daily lives. However, not everyone is at risk of getting NTM lung disease. Most people do not become infected because their lungs are healthy and can clear NTM bacteria. But, people with a history of lung conditions, like bronchiectasis, COPD, or asthma are more likely to develop an NTM infection.

In fact, approximately 50% of people with bronchiectasis may have active NTM lung disease, while people with COPD are almost 16 times more likely to get NTM lung disease.

People with bronchiectasis, COPD and asthma

That's because certain lung conditions that cause damage to the lungs make it difficult to clear NTM bacteria. This puts people with lung conditions more at risk for getting NTM lung disease.

NTM lung disease is more common in women. People aged 65 and older, a population that is expected to nearly double by 2030, are at an increased risk.

People who have weakened immune systems can also develop NTM infections, including those taking medications which affect immune response.

People 65 and older


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Your Lung Condition 
Puts You At Risk

People with a history of lung conditions, like bronchiectasis, COPD, or asthma, are more likely to develop an NTM infection. You can also get infected if you have had severe or chronic pneumonia.

That's because the damage from these conditions can make it easier for NTM to infect your lungs, and more difficult to get rid of NTM. This puts people with lung conditions at a higher risk for getting NTM lung disease.

People with lung conditions have a higher
chance of getting NTM.
Those lung conditions include:

Bronchiectasis happens when the walls of the airways, or bronchi, thicken from chronic inflammation and/or infection, leading to the build-up of mucus. Bacteria, like NTM, often infect the lungs of people with bronchiectasis.

Approximately 50% of people with bronchiectasis may have active NTM lung disease.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. Progressive means the disease gets worse over time. COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.

People with COPD are almost 16 times more likely to get NTM lung disease.

Asthma is a lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning, but may occur in response to exercise or exposure to environmental triggers.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can cause serious illness. Pneumonia can cause a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing. For most people, pneumonia may be treated at home. It often clears up with antibiotics, but older adults and people with other conditions may become very sick.

Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways, or bronchi, in the lungs. Symptoms include coughing up mucus and shortness of breath. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic.

The symptoms of NTM lung disease are similar to other lung conditions. So similar, in fact, that NTM lung disease is sometimes misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. People can have NTM for months, sometimes years, without knowing it. Many people have symptoms, but may think it’s due to a lung condition they already have.

If this sounds like you, talk to your doctor about whether or not you may have an NTM infection.

Ask about NTM lung disease—Think you may have NTM lung disease? Download this discussion guide to help start a conversation about NTM with your doctor.

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Discussion Guide

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NTM 
in the United States

While NTM lung disease is considered rare, cases in the US are rising, growing 8% each year. In 2018, it was estimated that 75,000–105,000 patients would be diagnosed with NTM lung disease in the US.

NTM infections occur throughout the US. However,
there are 10 states that have the highest rates 
of NTM infection.

About NTM: 10 states with highest rates of NTM
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Texas
  • California
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • New Jersey
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Arizona
7 out of 10 adult NTM infections

Some areas of the US have higher rates of NTM lung disease. In fact, 7 out of 10 of all NTM infections in the US occur along a coastal area.

There are many factors that can increase your risk of NTM lung disease. Who gets NTM can be influenced by:

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Where you live and the 
climate in your area

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Your personal health history

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Your environmental exposure