A question was raised regarding the prevalence of rapidly-growing mycobacteria (RGM) in Singapore following the previous post. Researchers in several countries have found that the prevalence of infections caused by RGM had been increasing over time, including in UK between 1995-2006, Taiwan between 2000-2008, Queensland (Australia) between 1999-2005, and in Minnesota (USA) between 1980-2009. Other than in Minnesota, where Mycobacterium marinum was the most common RGM isolated, the other reports found that M. abscessus was most frequently isolated. The rise in RGM infections have been attributed to an increase in cosmetic procedures, notably body piercing, tattooing and cosmetic surgery, as well as an increase in the immunosuppressed population.

The short answer for Singapore is: probably not. Below is a chart derived from the data used for the paper, which includes virtually all RGM isolated in Singapore between 2006 and 2011.

Prevalence and number of RGM infections in Singapore, 2006-2011.
Prevalence and number of RGM infections in Singapore, 2006-2011.

As one can see, whether corrected for population changes or not, there did not appear to be an increase (or decrease) in RGM infections over this period. Nonetheless, 6 years (2006-2011) is too short to determine any real changes in infection rates over time, and proper long-term surveillance should be performed – at least on an annual basis – to answer the question properly. RGM infections are not considered a major public health threat, however, hence the likelihood of such a surveillance programme being implemented in Singapore is very low.

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