Infections caused by Mycobacterium avium are common in AIDS patients and patients with chronic lung diseases. The bacterium can be acquired both through the intestinal route and respiratory route. M. avium is capable of invading mucosal epithelial cells and translocating across the mucosa. The bacterium can infect macrophages, interfering with several functions of the host cell. The host defense against M. avium is primarily dependent on CD4+ T lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Activated macrophages can inhibit or kill intracellular bacteria by mechanisms that are currently unknown, but M. avium can invade resting macrophages and suppress key aspects of their function by triggering the release of transforming growth factor beta and interleukin 10. Co-infection with HIV-1 appears to be mutually beneficial, with both organisms growing faster.