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What is Actinomycosis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis, Complications, Prevention, Risk Factors

What is Actinomycosis?

Actinomycosis is the name given to a prolonged infection which affects the soft tissues of the body and causes sores or abscesses to develop. Actinomycosis is normally found in mouth, nose, throat, lungs, stomach, and the intestines. Apart from these regions it is very rare that Actinomycosis develops anywhere else, although it may spread from its initial location to other parts of the body, especially if the soft tissues are damaged excessively due to Actinomycosis.

Actinomycosis is not contagious and does not spread if an individual is in close contact with an infected person. Actinomycosis is mostly seen in the tropical regions of the world like Panama, Costa Rica, or Brazil.


What are the Causes of Actinomycosis?

Actinomycosis is quite rare in the United States of America. Actinomycosis was first felt to be a fungal infection as it used to spread very slowly but later on it was found out that bacterium known as Actinomycetaceae is the root cause behind Actinomycosis. Other bacteria that belong to this class are:

  • Actinomyces israelii
  • Actinomyces naeslundii
  • Actinomyces viscosus.

These bacteria are present naturally in the cavities of the body like the nose or the throat but are dormant and not cause any infection unless and until they are able to break through the lining of the cavities.

What are the Risk Factors for Actinomycosis?

Some of the risk factors for Actinomycosis are:

  • Compromised immune system either due to age or some other concomitant illnesses.
  • Malnourished.
  • Poor dental care, especially after a dental procedure or a trauma to the jaw or face.

What are the Symptoms of Actinomycosis?

The symptoms of Actinomycosis depend on the tissue that has been affected. If the tissue in the mouth is affected then the patient will feel a lump in the jaw. This lump in itself is not painful but it can cause painful abscesses in the area. The affected individual can also experience a locked jaw such that he or he is not able to open the mouth normally.

Some of the other symptoms of Actinomycosis are:

  • Persistent fever
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Lumps on the neck or face
  • Sores on the skin which may drain can be a symptom of Actinomycosis
  • Sinus drainage
  • Frequent coughing
  • Chest pain

How is Actinomycosis Diagnosed?

The best way to diagnose Actinomycosis is by collecting a tissue sample from the affected area and then analyze it under a microscope. This will confirm the presence of the offending bacterium and confirm the diagnosis of Actinomycosis.

How is Actinomycosis Treated?

The frontline treatment for Actinomycosis is antibiotics. Penicillin is given in high doses for treating the disease condition like tetracycline, clindamycin, and erythromycin. It usually takes up to 12 months for the entire infection to clear up. Now coming to the sores or abscesses formed due to Actinomycosis, they need to be drained or removed. In case if you suspect that you have Actinomycosis then you need to contact your healthcare provider immediately so that aggressive treatment can be started so as to prevent long term complications and further advancement of the infection.

What are the Long Term Complications of Actinomycosis?

Actinomycosis begins in the soft tissues in the body but it has a tendency to spread to other parts of the body and infect it. Hence, if this condition is left untreated then surgical intervention may become necessary to remove the infected part which may be complex. In some cases Actinomycosis in the nasal sinuses can reach the brain and cause some serious problems for the patient like meningitis.

How is Actinomycosis Prevented?

The best way to prevent Actinomycosis is to practice good oral hygiene. Go to your dentist frequently to look at the status of the teeth and see if any infection is trying to creep up.

What is the Prognosis for Actinomycosis?

With prompt treatment and diligent followup an individual can get completely cured from Actinomycosis.


  1. Actinomycosis – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482151
  2. Actinomycosis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000599.htm

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 31, 2023

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