Molecular characterisation of clinical and environmental isolates of Mycobacterium kansasii isolates from South African gold mines

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Mycobacterium kansasii (M. kansasii) is a major cause of non-tuberculous mycobacterial pulmonary disease in the South African gold-mining workforce, but the source of infection and molecular epidemiology are unknown. This study investigated the presence of M. kansasii in gold and coal mine and associated hostel water supplies and compared the genetic diversity of clinical and environmental isolates of M. kansasii. Five M. kansasii and ten other potentially pathogenic mycobacteria were cultured mainly from showerhead biofilms. Polymerase chain reaction-restriction analysis of the hsp65 gene on 196 clinical and environmental M. kansasii isolates revealed 160 subtype I, eight subtype II and six subtype IV strains. Twenty-two isolates did not show the typical M. kansasii restriction patterns, suggesting that these isolates may represent new subtypes of M. kansasii. In contrast to the clonal population structure found amongst the subtype I isolates from studies in other countries, DNA fingerprinting of 114 clinical and three environmental subtype I isolates demonstrated genetic diversity amongst the isolates. This study demonstrated that showerheads are possible sources of M. kansasii and other pathogenic non-tuberculous mycobacterial infection in a gold-mining region, that subtype I is the major clinical isolate of M. kansasii strain and that this subtype exhibits genetic diversity.

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