Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are ubiquitous organisms of a wide variety of environmental reservoirs, including natural and municipal water, soil, aerosols, protozoans, animals and humans. Several of these species are potential pathogens which affect human health. The aim of this study was to determine the occurrence of NTM in the water environment. Samples were taken from 13 water-related facilities including fish ponds, storage ponds, drinking water reservoirs and an experimental recirculation system. Altogether, 396 samples of water, sediment and aquatic plants were collected and analysed. All samples were examined using conventional culture methods. Suspected microbial isolates were subjected to polymerase chain reaction analysis and identified using partial sequence analysis of the 16S rDNA gene. The culture revealed 94/396 samples (23.7%) that contained mycobacteria. Among known NTM we identified potentially pathogenic mycobacteria isolated from the fresh water environment for the first time: Mycobacterium asiaticum, M. chimaera, M. interjectum, M. kumamotonense, M. lentiflavum, M. montefiorense, M. nebraskense, M. paraffinicum and M. simiae. Epidemiologic studies suggest that the natural water environment is the principal source of human exposure. Our results indicate that besides the well-known potentially pathogenic mycobacteria it is important to observe occurrence, proliferation and persistence of newly discovered mycobacterial species.

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