Read about actinomycosis medical facts: what is the definition of actinomycosis, frequency, characteristics and features, causative organism, and related actinomycosis diseases.

Definition: What is "Actinomycosis"?


Actinomycosis (pronounced ak-tuh-nuh-my-KOH-sihs) is a rare & infectious bacterial disease among humans. This is generally caused by Propionibacterium propionicus & actinoyces israelii, A.gerencseriae. This condition is unlikely a polymicrobial infection. Actinomycosis is a sub-acute to chronic bacterial disease which is caused by the filamentous, anaerobic to microaerophilic & gram positive bacteria that are non-acid fast.


Actinomycosis is a very rare infection in the United States. In the 70's, the recorded annual occurrence of this disease in Cleveland was at 1 in every 300,000 individuals. The improvement of dental hygiene & the prevalent use of antibiotics for several infections could have been contributing factors to the decline of incidents of the disease. In the global aspect, actinomycosis appears worldwide. No specific race is solely affected by this illness. It is likely that the rate of prevalence is higher in areas that have low socioeconomic status.

Characteristics & Features

Actinomycosis is characterized by the development of abscesses that can be painful (which could appear on the mouth, digestive organs or lungs). The more the abscesses grow, the more painful they can become. The disease could progress in just a few periods of months. Severe cases of these abscesses could penetrate the muscles & bones that surround the skin where pus could break open the skin & leak out. The most common clinical types of actinomycosis are the thoracic type; cervicofacial (or lumpy jaw) type; & the abdominal type. In female patients, it is possible to have pelvic actinomycosis. Actinomycosis could occur in both humans & other animals (a common example are cattle). This disease is called lumpy jaw even among cattle & it refers to the animal's large abscesses which grow on its neck & head. Otto Bollinger, a pathologist, has described the manifestation of Actinomyces bovis among cattle in the year 1877; a short period after, James Israel has discovered Actinomyces israelii among humans. In the year 1890, Eugen Bostroem has isolated the organism that causes the condition. He discovered it from a culture of grasses, grain & soil. After this discovery, there was a common misconception that actinomycosis was a type of mycosis which affected people who chewed straw or grass.

Causative Organism

Actinomycosis is caused, primarily, by any one of the numerous members of the genus Actinomyces bacteria. These bacteria are anaerobic in general. This means that they can exist even in the absence of oxygen. Infection can only occur when these bacteria multiply freely in environments that are anoxic. The three usual locations of infection are the lungs, decayed teeth & the intestines. Actinomycosis can be treated with penicillin because the Actinomyces bacteria are sensitive to this medicine.

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