Actinomycosis is a long-term (chronic) bacterial infection that commonly affects the face and neck.
Actinomycosis is usually caused by bacterium called Actinomyces israelii . This is a common organism found in the nose and throat. It normally does not cause disease.
Because of the bacteria's normal location in the nose and throat, actinomycosis most commonly affects the face and neck. The infection can sometimes occur in the chest ( pulmonary actinomycosis ), abdomen, pelvis, or other areas of the body. The infection is not contagious. This means it does not spread to other people.
Pulmonary actinomycosis is a rare lung infection caused by bacteria.
Symptoms occur when the bacteria enter the tissues of the face after trauma, surgery, or infection. Common triggers include dental abscess or oral surgery. The infection can also affect certain women who have had an intrauterine device (IUD) to prevent pregnancy.
A tooth abscess is a buildup of infected material (pus) in the center of a tooth. It is an infection caused by bacteria.
Once in the tissue, the bacteria cause an abscess, producing a hard, red to reddish-purple lump, often on the jaw, from which comes the condition's common name, "lumpy jaw."
Eventually, the abscess breaks through the skin surface to produce a draining sinus tract.
Symptoms may include any of the following:
- Draining sores in the skin, especially on the chest wall from lung infection with actinomyces
- Mild or no pain
- Swelling or a hard, red to reddish-purple lump on the face or upper neck
- Weight loss
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms.
Tests that may be done to check for presence of the bacteria include:
- Culture of the tissue or fluid
- Examination of drained fluid under a microscope
Treatment of actinomycosis usually requires antibiotics for several months to a year. Surgical drainage or removal of the affected area (lesion) may be needed. If the condition is related to an IUD, the device must be removed.
Full recovery can be expected with treatment.
In rare cases, meningitis can develop from actinomycosis.
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. This covering is called the meninges.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you develop symptoms of this infection. Starting treatment right away helps quicken the recovery.
Good oral hygiene and regular dentist visits may help prevent some forms of actinomycosis.
Tooth decay and gum disease are caused by plaque, a sticky combination of bacteria and food. Plaque begins to build up on teeth within 20 minutes af...
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Actinomycosis (lumpy jaw) - illustration
Actinomycosis (lumpy jaw) is caused by a bacteria introduced to face tissues by trauma, surgery or infection. Long term treatment with antibiotics is often required.
Actinomycosis (lumpy jaw)
Review Date: 12/10/2015
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.