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Pulmonary actinomycosis

Pulmonary actinomycosis is a rare bacterial lung infection.

Alternative Names

Actinomycosis - pulmonary

Causes

Pulmonary actinomycosis is caused by certain bacteria normally found in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract, where they do not usually cause harm. Poor dental hygiene and dental abscess can increase your risk of face, jaw, and lung infections caused by these bacteria.

Alcohol abuse, having scars on the lungs (bronchiectasis), and emphysema are all associated with lung infections caused by actinomycosis.

The disease is rare in the U.S. It may occur at any age, but most patients are 30 to 60 years old. Men get this infection more often than women.

Symptoms

The infection usually comes on slowly. It may be weeks or months before a doctor makes a diagnosis.

Symptoms include any of the following:

Exams and Tests

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to cure the infection. Many patients take a long time to get better. To be cured, you may need to receive the antibiotic penicillin through a vein (intravenously) for 4 to 6 weeks. Then you need to take penicillin by mouth. Some people need up to 18 months of treatment.

If you cannot take penicillin, your doctor will prescribe other antibiotics.

Surgery may be needed to drain fluid from the lungs and control the infection.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most people get better after treatment with antibiotics.

Possible Complications


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms of pulmonary actinomycosis
  • Your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment
  • You develop new symptoms
  • You have a fever 101°F or higher.

Prevention

Good dental hygiene may help reduce your risk of getting actinomycosis.

References

Brook I. Actinomycosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 337.

Russo TA. Agents of actinomycosis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 255.

Updated: 5/12/2014

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.


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