Nontuberculous mycobacterial lung infections in patients with eating disorders: plausible mechanistic links in a case series
Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are widely distributed in the environment and are almost always acquired into the lungs by bioaerosol inhalation or aspiration of NTM-contaminated water, biofilms, and soil. NTM are increasingly recognized as causes of lung diseases in immunocompetent hosts, a not insignificant number of whom have a life-long or nearly life-long slender body habitus as well as thoracic cage abnormalities such as scoliosis and pectus excavatum. While several hypotheses have been offered to explain the purported increase in susceptibility to NTM lung disease in such individuals, the precise explanation remains unknown. We described three patients with eating disorders associated with severe malnutrition and either purging behaviors or other risks for aspiration who were diagnosed with NTM lung infections-the largest number of such patients to date in a single report. We discuss the clinical and experimental evidence that low body weight and chronic vomiting with attendant jeopardy for aspiration, as seen in patients with eating disorders, may represent risk factors for NTM lung disease. We also speculate the possibility of occult and undiagnosed eating disorders in some of the slender NTM lung disease patients with no known risk factors for the opportunistic infection other than their low body weight.