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What is Actinomycosis?

Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal

Actinomycosis is a rare but serious infection that commonly occurs in the head and neck area. It is caused by a number of different bacteria called actinomycetes. Actinomycetes are commonly found in the cheeks and mouth, but they do not cause infection unless they enter the body through broken skin or the mucous tissues.

Actinomycosis can also occur in the abdomen if it is ingested with food. It can also infect the chest and lungs if it is inhaled through the mouth or nose. Although actinomycosis is a rare infection, it is still common in tropical countries.


Actinomycosis first appears as a hard area or lump of tissue. The muscles around the area may become tight. An abscess forms underneath the lump due to the build up of pus. The tissue surrounding the lump swells, and pus begins to leak through small passages called sinuses onto the skin's surface.

These abscesses most commonly appear around the jaw area. They can also appear on the mouth, chest and abdomen. Because they are most commonly found around the jaw, the condition is sometimes referred to as lumpy jaw.

Other common symptoms of actinomycosis are fever and swelling to the head and face. Cases of weight loss have also been recorded. The symptoms, on the whole, are usually painless.

Diagnosis of actinomycosis is usually made after laboratory testing. The pus must be analyzed in order to detect the presence of the actinomycetes bacterium. The tests also look for yellow sulphur granules in the pus, which are a sign of actinomycosis.

Treatment for actinomycosis is usually a series of antibiotics, most commonly penicillin. These are injected at first and followed up with oral antibiotics. If the infection is severe, the treatment may last for up to 12 months.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary in order to drain the abscesses. Surgery may also be required to remove the sinuses and any infected lumps. The passages that leak pus may need to be sealed off if they have progressed into the bones.

The best way to prevent actinomycosis is to maintain an excellent standard of hygiene. The infection can spread through decaying teeth, so regular dental checkups are important. People who are more susceptible to the infection include pregnant women and those with weak immune systems.

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