Mycobacterium abscessus, a non-tuberculous mycobacterium (NTM) that causes progressive lung damage and is multidrug-resistant, can be transmitted person-to-person in cystic fibrosis patients, [removed]according to new research[/removed] published in The Lancet.

Between 3% and 10% of cystic fibrosis patients in Europe and the US are infected with the superbug, which is distantly related to the bacterium that causes Tuberculosis. Until now, scientists had thought that M. abscessus could only be transmitted through water and soil, researchers said.

For the study, researchers used whole genome DNA sequencing on almost 170 isolates of M. abscessus from Cystic Fibrosis patients collected over a five-year period. By looking at the fine detail of the relationships between the bacterial genomes, to produce a ‘family tree’, the research team could determine where it was likely that infection had passed from one patient to another.

Results found that M. abscessus can spread between patients despite infection control measures.

“Our results will help to protect patients from this serious infection,” said lead author Andres Floto, the research director of the cystic fibrosis unit at Papworth Hospital and principal investigator at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.

“By sequencing the complete genomes of bacteria we can accurately describe where they have emerged from and how they pass from person to person,” added professor Julian Parkhill, the head of pathogen genomics at the Wellcome trust Sanger Institute. “This knowledge means that the clinical teams can develop new health measures to safeguard their patients. Our aim is to develop the best methods to detect and control infection.”