Mycobacterial synovitis caused by slow-growing nonchromogenic species: Eighteen cases and a review of the literature

Randall J. Olsen, Patricia L. Cernoch, Geoffrey Land

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Context.-Slow-growing nonchromogenic mycobacterial species are an infrequent cause of soft tissue infection. Because these organisms are rare, they are not often initially considered in the differential diagnosis of synovitis. Objective.-To evaluate the clinical and pathologic characteristics of patients with synovitis resulting from slow-growing nonchromogenic mycobacterial species. Design.-A 20-year retrospective review of records from The Methodist Hospital Microbiology Laboratory identified 18 culture-positive cases of synovitis that resulted from slow-growing nonchromogenic mycobacteria, including 14 caused by Mycobacterium avium complex, 1 caused by Mycobacterium malmoense, 1 caused by Mycobacterium haemophilum, and 2 caused by Mycobacterium nonchromogenicum isolates. In addition, a comprehensive literature search revealed an additional 48 cases of synovitis caused by slow-growing nonchromogenic mycobacteria. Results.-The historic literature described the majority of the 48 patients as previously healthy, elderly individuals with a several-month history of monoarticular pain and swelling in the small joints of the upper extremity. In contrast, the current series demonstrated the probable role of multiple chronic coexisting medical conditions in promoting disease susceptibility. These patients were also unique in their significantly younger age distribution and diversity of infection sites. Histologic examination and direct acid-fast bacteria stains generally did not aid the diagnosis. Amputation was performed in 2 patients because of delayed identification of disease. Conclusions.-The current series demonstrates that difficult identification and infrequent occurrence cause these organisms to be overlooked by physicians and laboratory personnel. A heightened clinical suspicion for slow-growing nonchromogenic mycobacterial species is necessary when routine culture and histopathologic findings do not readily isolate an organism, or when the patient does not respond to antibiotic and anti-inflammatory treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)783-791
Number of pages9
JournalArchives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Medical Laboratory Technology


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