Actinomycosis overview

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Actinomycosis Microchapters


Patient Information


Historical Perspective




Differentiating Actinomycosis from other Diseases

Epidemiology and Demographics

Risk Factors


Natural History, Complications and Prognosis


History and Symptoms

Physical Examination

Laboratory Findings


Chest X Ray



Echocardiography or Ultrasound


Medical Therapy


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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1];Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Aditya Ganti M.B.B.S. [2]


Actinomycosis is a rare infectious bacterial disease of humans generally caused by Actinomyces israelii, A. gerencseriae and Propionibacterium propionicus. It is characterized by formation of painful abscesses in mouth, lungs, and digestive organs. The abscesses tend to grow larger as the disease progresses. In such conditions, the abscesses may penetrate the surrounding bone, muscle and skin, forming a sinus tract leaking large amounts of pus. Actinomycosis is also seen in cattle and is known as lumpy jaw. as the abscesses tend to grow on the head and neck of the animal.

Historical Perspective

Acitnomycosis was first discovered in 1877 in cattle by pathologist Otto Bollinger. Later in the same year, James Israel discovered it in humans and classified it under fungal origin. In 1939, Bergey classified to be bacteria.


Actinomycosis can be classified based on the anatomical site involved into[1]


Actinomycosis is a chronic pyogenic bacterial infection caused by Actinomyces species. Infection most frequently follows dental work, trauma and surgery. When there is break in the mucosal layer, anywhere from the mouth to the rectum they reach tissues and cause damage. Incubation period of actinomycosis varies from one to four weeks. But occasionally, it may be as long as several months. Actinomycosis elicits both humoral and cell-mediated immune responses.[2][3][4][5][6][7]


Actinomyces is a genus of Gram-positive bacteria. Some species are anaerobic, while others are facultatively anaerobic. Actinomyces species do not form spores, and, while individual bacteria are rod-shaped, morphologically Actinomyces colonies form fungus-like branched networks of hyphae. Many actinomyces species are opportunistic pathogens of humans and other mammals, particularly in the oral cavity. In rare cases, these bacteria can cause actinomycosis, a disease characterized by the formation of abscesses in the mouth, lungs, or the gastrointestinal tract.[8][9][10]

Differentiating Actinomycosis from other diseases

The differential diagnosis of actinomycosis consists of blastomycosis, brain abscess, colon cancer, crohn disease, diverticulitis, liver abscess, lung abscess, lymphoma, nocardiosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, pneumonia, tuberculosis and uterine cancer.

Epidemiology and Demographics

In 1970, its annual incidence was estimated to be 1 per 300,000. Its incidence has been declined due the advent of widespread use of antibiotics following dental surgeries. Actinomycosis is commonly found between 4th to 6th decade of life and very rare in infants and children. Males are more commonly affected by actinomycosis than females.

Risk factors

Common risk factors in the development of actinomycosis include dental abscess, oral surgery, and facial trauma.


According to the Centers for disease control and prevention, screening for actinomycosis is not recommended.

Natural history, Complications and Prognosis

If left untreated, patients with actinomycosis may progress to develop focal organ involvement with mass-like features and dvelopment of sinus tracts (which can heal and reform leading to multiple abscesses complications that can develop as a result of actinomycosis include local extension of disease resulting in osteomyelitis of the mandible, ribs, or vertebrae.The prognosis is generally excellent with prompt and effective antimicrobial treatment in patients in uncomplicated actinomycosis. Mortality range from 0% to 28%.[2][3][4][5][6][7][11]


History and Symptoms

Actinomycosis can present with diverse clinical presentation, which include systemic flu-like symptoms and symptoms due to focal involvement of organs by the bacteria.[12][13][14][15][16][17][5]

Physical Examination

The physical examination findings of actinomycosis are mostly nonspecific and are described according to the organ involved [1]

Laboratory findings

The gold standard for diagnosing actinomycosis is histological examination and bacterial culture.[18][19]

Xray Chest

There are no specific chest X-ray findings for actinomycosis.


Medical therapy

Antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment in actinomycosis. The exact antibiotic regimen depends on the site of infection, the severity of disease, and the patient’s response to treatment. For cervicofacial actinomycosis, Ampicillin is administered followed by Penicillin V. Patients with a more extensive disease requires surgery.


Surgery is indicated when the disease involves chest, abdomen, pelvis, and central nervous system (CNS). Surgical resection is required for infected tissue with extensive necrosis and presence of multiple sinus tracts, or fistulas. It is also indicated if malignancy cannot be excluded or if large abscesses cannot be drained by percutaneous aspiration.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Valour F, Sénéchal A, Dupieux C, Karsenty J, Lustig S, Breton P, Gleizal A, Boussel L, Laurent F, Braun E, Chidiac C, Ader F, Ferry T (2014). "Actinomycosis: etiology, clinical features, diagnosis, treatment, and management". Infect Drug Resist. 7: 183–97. doi:10.2147/IDR.S39601. PMC 4094581. PMID 25045274.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Volante M, Contucci AM, Fantoni M, Ricci R, Galli J (2005). "Cervicofacial actinomycosis: still a difficult differential diagnosis". Acta Otorhinolaryngol Ital. 25 (2): 116–9. PMC 2639881. PMID 16116835.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sharkawy AA (2007). "Cervicofacial actinomycosis and mandibular osteomyelitis". Infect. Dis. Clin. North Am. 21 (2): 543–56, viii. doi:10.1016/j.idc.2007.03.007. PMID 17561082.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Peipert, Jeffrey F. (2004). "Actinomyces: Normal Flora or Pathogen?". Obstetrics & Gynecology. 104 (Supplement): 1132–1133. doi:10.1097/01.AOG.0000145267.59208.e7. ISSN 0029-7844.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Higashi Y, Nakamura S, Ashizawa N, Oshima K, Tanaka A, Miyazaki T, Izumikawa K, Yanagihara K, Yamamoto Y, Miyazaki Y, Mukae H, Kohno S (2017). "Pulmonary Actinomycosis Mimicking Pulmonary Aspergilloma and a Brief Review of the Literature". Intern. Med. 56 (4): 449–453. doi:10.2169/internalmedicine.56.7620. PMID 28202870.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Schaal KP, Lee HJ (1992). "Actinomycete infections in humans--a review". Gene. 115 (1–2): 201–11. PMID 1612438.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Brown, James R. (1973). "Human actinomycosisA study of 181 subjects". Human Pathology. 4 (3): 319–330. doi:10.1016/S0046-8177(73)80097-8. ISSN 0046-8177.
  8. Bowden GHW (1996). Actinomycosis in: Baron's Medical Microbiology (Baron S et al, eds.) (4th ed. ed.). Univ of Texas Medical Branch. (via NCBI Bookshelf) ISBN 0-9631172-1-1.
  9. Holt JG (editor) (1994). Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology (9th ed. ed.). Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 0-683-00603-7.
  10. Madigan M; Martinko J (editors). (2005). Brock Biology of Microorganisms (11th ed. ed.). Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-144329-1.
  11. Agrawal P, Vaiphei K (2014). "Renal actinomycosis". BMJ Case Rep. 2014. doi:10.1136/bcr-2014-205892. PMC 4244330. PMID 25406215.
  12. Bonnefond S, Catroux M, Melenotte C, Karkowski L, Rolland L, Trouillier S, Raffray L (2016). "Clinical features of actinomycosis: A retrospective, multicenter study of 28 cases of miscellaneous presentations". Medicine (Baltimore). 95 (24): e3923. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000003923. PMC 4998488. PMID 27311002.
  13. Sung HY, Lee IS, Kim SI, Jung SE, Kim SW, Kim SY, Chung MK, Kim WC, Oh ST, Kang WK (2011). "Clinical features of abdominal actinomycosis: a 15-year experience of a single institute". J. Korean Med. Sci. 26 (7): 932–7. doi:10.3346/jkms.2011.26.7.932. PMC 3124725. PMID 21738348.
  14. Choi MM, Baek JH, Beak JH, Lee JN, Park S, Lee WS (2009). "Clinical features of abdominopelvic actinomycosis: report of twenty cases and literature review". Yonsei Med. J. 50 (4): 555–9. doi:10.3349/ymj.2009.50.4.555. PMC 2730619. PMID 19718405.
  15. Smego RA (1987). "Actinomycosis of the central nervous system". Rev Infect Dis. 9 (5): 855–65. PMID 3317731.
  16. Meethal AC, Pattamparambath M, Balan A, Kumar NR, Sathyabhama S (2016). "Actinomycotic Osteomyelitis of the Maxilla - A Delusive Presentation". J Clin Diagn Res. 10 (7): ZJ01–3. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2016/19171.8086. PMC 5020198. PMID 27630971.
  17. Shikino K, Ikusaka M, Takada T (2015). "Cervicofacial actinomycosis". J Gen Intern Med. 30 (2): 263. doi:10.1007/s11606-014-3001-z. PMC 4314475. PMID 25280832.
  18. Acevedo F, Baudrand R, Letelier LM, Gaete P (2008). "Actinomycosis: a great pretender. Case reports of unusual presentations and a review of the literature". Int. J. Infect. Dis. 12 (4): 358–62. doi:10.1016/j.ijid.2007.10.006. PMID 18164641.
  19. Mani RK, Mishra V, Singh PK, Pradhan D (2017). "Pulmonary actinomycosis: a clinical surprise!". BMJ Case Rep. 2017. doi:10.1136/bcr-2016-218959. PMID 28130291.

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