What is Actinomycetales (Actinomyces) infection?

Actinomycetales infections are caused by an order of bacteria known as Actinomycetales. This order contains several different groups of bacteria that are shaped like thin filaments or rods, including the Mycobacteria that are best known as the cause of tuberculosis. Bacteria from all of these groups cause a wide variety of diseases.

Actinomyces, one of the types of bacteria in the order Actinomycetales, is the focus of this article. Actinomyces bacteria cause actinomycosis, an infectious disease that can occur throughout the body. Actinomycosis is most commonly due to the species Actinomyces israelii, which causes infections that typically affect the face and neck but can involve other areas of the body as well. These bacteria normally reside in the nose, mouth and throat, where they do not cause problems. Disease may occur if they enter the skin or body as a result of injury or surgery, through a tooth abscess, by aspiration, if another infection is present, or if an intrauterine device (IUD) is present.

Actinomyces infections are sometimes called “lumpy jaw” because of their characteristic appearance of bumps on the face and neck. These bumps, which may or may not be painful, are caused by abscesses, or collections of pus, that form under the skin. As an abscess develops, the overlying skin forms a firm lump that turns red or reddish purple. The abscess eventually breaks through the skin and drains pus that typically contains yellowish crystals called sulfur granules.

Inside the body, Actinomyces infections can cause inflammation and abscesses that can create tracts that drain into nearby tissues. In the lungs, an Actinomyces infection can resemble tuberculosis. If infection occurs in the abdomen, it can cause symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. In the pelvis, Actinomyces infections can cause pelvic pain and irregular vaginal bleeding. Actinomyces infections can spread directly to nearby tissues and through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. These infections are not considered to be contagious.

Actinomyces infections of the skin rarely represent medical emergencies; however, serious infections can develop in the lungs, abdomen, pelvis, and other areas of the body. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as high fever, confusion, lethargy, loss of consciousness, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, seizure, severe headache, severe vomiting or diarrhea, or reduced urine production.

Seek prompt medical care if the infection is near the eye or interferes with eating or drinking, or if you are being treated for Actinomyces infections but symptoms recur, are persistent, or otherwise cause you concern.


What are the symptoms of Actinomyces infection?

Symptoms of an Actinomyces infection typically include lumps under the skin, most commonly on the face and neck, which turn red to reddish purple. The lumps eventually drain, producing a fluid containing yellowish crystals called sulfur granules. Fever may be present. At least half of Actinomyces infections involve the face and neck.

Actinomyces infections can also occur internall... Read more about actinomycetales infectionsymptoms


What causes Actinomyces infection?

Actinomyces infections are caused by a type of bacteria known as Actinomyces, most commonly the species Actinomyces israelii. These bacteria reside in the nose, mouth and throat, where they do not cause disease. However, they can cause infection by entering the skin or body through breaks in the skin or mucous membranes. This can occur during surgery, through a tooth abscess, by aspiration, if ... Read more about actinomycetales infectioncauses


How is Actinomyces infection treated?

Although Actinomyces infections can be chronic, they can be readily treated with antibiotics and surgery if necessary. The antibiotics typically need to be taken for more than a month and sometimes up to a year until the infection clears. In the case of pelvic Actinomyces infections, any intrauterine device (IUD) that is present should ... Read more about actinomycetales infectiontreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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