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May 1964

Changing Concepts in Tuberculosis: The Anonymous Mycobacteria

Arch Intern Med. 1964;113(5):676-678. doi:10.1001/archinte.1964.00280110056011

Since Koch's classic investigations in 1882 established Mycobacterium tuberculosis as the causative agent of mammalian tuberculosis, there have been remarkably few changes in the concepts of tuberculosis or tuberculosis bacteriology. In recent years, with the increased use of improved culture techniques as a diagnostic aid, acid-fast bacilli other than the well-known human, bovine, and avian tubercle bacilli are being isolated from clinical material with increasing frequency. Recent case reports have definitely shown these microorganisms to be etiological agents of a human tuberculosis-like disease.

The term "atypical mycobacteria" has been used to describe these organisms, but should be discontinued because this term implies that the two mammalian varieties of tubercle bacilli are the typical organisms of reference. Furthermore, these mycobacteria are apparently not mutants or strains or tubercle bacilli but, rather, completely distinct organisms. Since many of these mycobacteria are capable of producing disease in man, they deserve taxonomic classification and