A total of 210 new cases of tuberculosis due to Mycobacterium africanum were registered at the South-East Regional Centre for Tuberculosis Bacteriology, Dulwich, between 1977 and 1987 inclusive. This represented 1·25% of bacteriologically-confirmed cases of tuberculosis in South-East England, an incidence slightly higher than that of disease due to M. bovis. Two variants were identified: 150 strains were typed as African I (a type associated with East Africa) and 60 as African II (a type more prevalent in West Africa). Over half the patients infected with African I strains were of Indian subcontinent ethnic origin; patients of African ethnic origin predominated in the African II group while about a fifth of patients infected with either type were of European origin. The European patients with tuberculosis due to M. africanum were notably younger than those in the same region with disease due to other tubercle bacilli. The distribution of lesions due to M. africanum was similar to that due to other tubercle bacilli in the various ethnic groups, except that genito-urinary tuberculosis was uncommon. The importance of a clinical awareness that M. africanum is a highly pathogenic and transmissible tubercle bacillus rather than an opportunist or ‘atypical’ mycobacterium is stressed.
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