Japan reportedly has high incidence rate of nontuberculous mycobacterial lung disease (14.7 cases per 100,000 person in 2014). In Japan, the most common etiology is Mycobacterium avium subsp. hominissuis (MAH). MAH is a typical inhabitant of the environment, especially bathrooms, which are considered as a potential source of infection. To corroborate this hypothesis, we determined the detection rate of MAH in bathrooms of healthy volunteers by an ordinary culture method and we analyzed the genetic relatedness of these isolates with those from patients and other sources. We collected swabs of bathtub inlets, showerheads, bathroom drains, and shower water from 180 residences throughout Japan. The overall MAH detection rate was 16.1%, but the rate varied among regions: it was high in Kanto (9/34, 26.5%) and Kinki (9/33, 27.3%), but low in Kyushu (0/11, 0%), Tohoku (1/23, 4.3%), and Hokkaido (2/23, 8.7%). MAH was detected primarily in bathtub inlet samples (25 out of 170 residences). Variable numbers of tandem repeats (VNTR) analysis was used to examine the genetic relatedness of 57 MAH isolates from bathrooms of the healthy volunteers with human clinical isolates. A minimum spanning tree generated on the basis of the VNTR data indicated that isolates from the bathrooms of the healthy volunteers had a high degree of genetic relatedness with those from Japanese patients, bathrooms of patients, and river water, but not with those from Russian patients and Japanese pigs. These results showed that bathtub inlets in Japan provide an environmental niche for MAH and suggest that bathrooms are one of the important infection sources of MAH in Japan. Understanding country-specific lifestyle habits, such as bathing in Japan, as well as the genetic diversity of MAH, will help in elucidating the sources of this pathogen.
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