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Introduction to Mycobacteria

By Dylan Tierney, MD, MPH , Instructor;Associate Physician, Division of Global Health Equity, Harvard Medical School;Brigham and Women's Hospital ; Edward A. Nardell, MD, Professor of Medicine and Global Health and Social Medicine;Associate Physician, Divisions of Global Health Equity and Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Harvard Medical School;Brigham & Women's Hospital

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Mycobacteria are small, slow-growing, aerobic bacilli. They are distinguished by a complex, lipid-rich cell envelope responsible for their characterization as acid-fast (ie, resistant to decolorization by acid after staining with carbolfuchsin) and their relative resistance to Gram stain. The most common mycobacterial infection is tuberculosis; others include leprosy and various diseases caused by Mycobacterium avium complex.