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  • Definition

    Actinomycosis is a bacterial infection that results in collections of pus in the body. This condition can be treated, so contact your doctor if you think you may have actinomycosis.
    Abdominal Abscess
    Abdominal Abscess
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  • Causes

    Actinomycosis is most often caused by infection specific bacteria. This is normally present in the mouth and, sometimes, in the intestines. The jaw is most commonly involved, with lung and abdominal infections being less common. Very rarely, women may develop abscesses in the reproductive organs or bladder.
  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your risk of actinomycosis include:
    • Having a dental disease or recent dental surgery
    • Liquids or solids that are sucked into lungs
    • Having bowel surgery
    • Swallowing fragments of chicken or other bones
    • Having an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) in place for many years
    • Diabetes
    • Having a weakened immune system
    • Malnutrition
    • Tissue damage
    • Chronic granulomatous disease or other disorder that affects the immune system (children)
  • Symptoms

    Actinomycosis may cause:
    • Hard swellings that are usually painless and located around the mouth, neck, or jaw
    • Swellings that may produce pus containing tiny, yellowish particles
    • Drainage of pus through the skin of the chest or abdomen
    • Fever
    • Weight loss
    • Cough that produces sputum or blood
    • Noticeable swelling or firm mass in the abdomen, especially the lower part
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
    • Analyses of pus, sputum, or tissue
    • X-ray
  • Treatment

    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
    High doses of antibiotics are used to treat actinomycosis. The antibiotics will need to be taken for 6-12 months.
    Drainage of Abscesses
    Your doctor will drain pus-containing abscesses.
  • Prevention

    The best way to reduce your chances of developing actinomycosis is to prevent dental disease by practicing good dental hygiene and regularly visiting your dentist. You should also:
    • Brush your teeth twice a day
    • Floss daily
    • Replace your toothbrush regularly

    Family Doctor - American Academy of Family Physicians

    Mouth Healthy - American Dental Association


    Canadian Dental Association

    Health Canada


    Actinomycosis. DynaMed website. Available at: Updated October 20, 2011. Accessed August 6, 2013.

    Hall V. Actinomyces—gathering evidence of human colonization and infection. Anaerobe. 2008;14(1):1-7.

    Naik NH, Russo TA. Bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw: the role of actinomyces. Clin Infect Dis. 2009;49(11):1729-1732.

    Sullivan DC, Chapman SW. Bacteria that masquerade as fungi: actinomycosis/nocardia. Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2010;7(3):216-221.

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