A study from the American Thoracic Society and the National Institutes Of Health in 2012 identified 7 significant clusters of NTM around the country. One of the clusters was found in the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area where significant clusters were identified in Montgomery County.
"You're thinking, have you hurt yourself by drinking water," says Karen McCarthy. Karen, who lives in nearby West Chester, was diagnosed with NTM in May.
She's being treated with antibiotics until next September and has installed a special water filter in order to avoid re-exposure. NTM causes the 54-year-old to struggle with fatigue and respiratory issues.
But Karen makes sure to stay in shape which ironically made her more susceptible.
She says she was shocked when she found out that being healthy and fit can put you are risk for the disease.
The NIH report also noted that most NTM patients had higher education and income levels. The infection is difficult to identify. "The diagnosis is tricky, it is often delayed," says Dr. Lande. "I will see patients as well as others that have been undiagnosed for several years."
Dr. Lande says mycobacteria can be especially dangerous when it's aerosolized in the shower or from a humidifier and even with dirt that blows in the air. Philip Leitman had never heard of NTM but he says he learned about the lung infection fast after his wife Fern was diagnosed.
They lived in another NTM hot spot in Florida. The lung infection eventually killed her.