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Pediatric Actinomycosis Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Jorge M Quinonez, MD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
Updated: Jan 12, 2016


History is specific to the type of actinomycosis infection encountered.

  • Cervicofacial actinomycosis
    • This is the most common and recognized presentation of the disease.
    • Actinomyces species are commonly present in high concentrations in tonsillar crypts and gingivodental crevices. Many patients have a history of poor dentition, oral surgery or dental procedures, or trauma to the oral cavity.[4]
    • Chronic tonsillitis, mastoiditis, and otitis are also important risk factors for actinomycosis.[5]
    • Periostitis or osteomyelitis can develop if the infection extends to facial and maxillary bones. The mandible appears to be one of the most common osteomyelitis sites.
    • Meningitis can also develop if the process extends into the cranial bones through sinus tracts.
  • Thoracic actinomycosis
    • Diagnosis of this condition requires a high index of suspicion.
    • The most common route for infection is aspiration of oropharyngeal or GI secretions.
    • Patients may have a history or risk factors for aspiration.
    • Other less common routes of infection include extensions from cervicofacial disease or spread from the abdomen and, rarely, dissemination through blood from other sites of infection.
    • The most common clinical presentation is a chronic, indolent, slowly progressing pneumonia with or without pleural involvement. Patients present with a productive cough, fever, chest pain, and weight loss. The condition can mimic tuberculosis or malignancy.[6]
    • The disease can spread to the mediastinum and cause tracheoesophageal fistulas, pericarditis, myocarditis, or endocarditis.
    • Posterior mediastinal involvement can lead to vertebral infection with bone destruction or disease of paraspinal muscles and soft tissues.
  • Abdominal actinomycosis
    • Abdominal actinomycosis is the most covert and indolent of all forms of the disease.[7]
    • Diagnosis is rarely suspected or made on clinical grounds. Usually, the laboratory or the pathologist provides diagnosis.
    • The infection usually develops after GI mucosal integrity is broken from surgical procedures or trauma, although, on many occasions, the inciting conditions may not be apparent.
    • Conditions such as typhoid fever, amebic dysentery, and the presence of foreign bodies, such as chicken and fish bones, have precluded the development of actinomycosis.
    • Appendicitis with perforation is the most common predisposing event, and, as a result, right-sided abdominal infection is far more common than left-sided abdominal infection. The inciting event can precede the diagnosis by months to years.[8]
    • Patients present with nonspecific symptoms and findings, such as fever, weight loss, diarrhea or constipation, and abdominal pain. Extension to the perirectal space is not uncommon and these patients present with defecation symptoms.
    • Hepatic[9] , renal, and splenic disseminations are uncommon complications of abdominal actinomycosis.
  • CNS disease
    • Clinical features are indistinguishable from those of other infections of the CNS.
    • The findings in those patients without meningeal involvement are typically those of a space-occupying lesion with focal neurologic defects and increased intracranial pressure.
    • The specific signs and symptoms are attributed to the anatomic location of the abscess, empyema, or actinomycoma.
    • Patients with chronic meningitis have an indolent picture that is no different from other chronic meningitides with headaches, low toxicity, and subtle neurologic findings dominating the picture.
  • Pelvic actinomycosis
    • This condition is extremely rare in the pediatric population and is almost exclusively is observed in patients who present with prolonged use of intrauterine contraception devices, usually for longer than 2 years.
    • Pelvic actinomycosis may develop from extension of intestinal infection, commonly from indolent ileocecal disease.
    • Patients present with an indolent history of vaginal discharge, abdominal or pelvic pain, menorrhagia, fever, weight loss, and prolonged use of an intrauterine contraceptive device.


Physical findings are specific to the type of actinomycosis infection encountered.

  • Cervical actinomycosis
    • Patients may present with an acute form of disease characterized by the formation of a painful pyogenic abscess with trismus and fistulas that drain the characteristic sulfur containing granules.
    • More commonly, patients present with a painless indurated mass at the angle of the jaw or submandibular region with 1 or several draining sinus tracts that discharge sulfur granules.
    • Although infection of the mandible is the most often encountered presentation, include actinomycosis in the differential of any mass lesion encountered in the head and neck regions.
  • Thoracic actinomycosis
    • Specific clinical or radiologic findings are not recognized.
    • Physical examination reveals diffuse rales and rhonchi. Decreased breath sounds can be appreciated if a pleural empyema is present.
    • The patient appears chronically ill.
    • Radiographic findings have the appearance of pneumonitis or a mass lesion, and, frequently, a pleural effusion is present.
    • Hilar adenopathy can often be observed.
    • Extension to adjacent tissues with involvement of chest wall muscles and soft tissues may lead to the formation of sinus tracts extending to the skin. This finding should always raise the possibility of actinomycosis.
  • Abdominal actinomycosis
    • An abscess or a hard, firm mass fixed to underlying tissue can be palpated in all quadrants, more commonly in the right lower quadrant.
    • Sinus tracts that extend to the abdominal wall or perirectal tissues may be found sporadically. Patients experience localized or diffuse abdominal tenderness.
    • Hepatomegaly and jaundice can be found with liver involvement. Appearance of symptoms is indolent, and the patient may have had symptoms for months before seeking attention.
  • Pelvic disease: Upon physical examination, a pelvic mass can be felt on the adnexa and a vaginal or cervical discharge can be observed with speculum examination.


Predisposing risk factors are specific to the type of infection encountered.

  • Cervicofacial actinomycosis
    • Poor dental hygiene
    • Oral surgery
    • Dental work
    • Oral trauma
    • Chronic mastoiditis
    • Chronic otitis
    • Chronic tonsillitis
  • Thoracic actinomycosis
    • Any risk factor for aspiration
    • Alcohol or drug intoxication
    • Altered mental status
    • Neurologically devastated patients
  • Abdominal actinomycosis
    • Previous GI surgery
    • Perforation of the bowel, appendix, or colon
    • Abdominal trauma
    • Foreign bodies
    • Typhoid fever
    • Amebic dysentery
  • CNS actinomycosis
    • Prior Actinomyces infection at a distant site, such as lungs, abdomen, or pelvis
    • Extension from contiguous source, such as cervicofacial actinomycosis, paranasal infection, or middle ear infection[10]
  • Pelvic actinomycosis
    • Prolonged use of intrauterine contraception devices
    • Spread from intestinal infection
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Jorge M Quinonez, MD Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Family Health Centers of Southwest Florida, Inc

Jorge M Quinonez, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Glaxo Smith Kline for speaking and teaching.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mark R Schleiss, MD Minnesota American Legion and Auxiliary Heart Research Foundation Chair of Pediatrics, Professor of Pediatrics, Division Director, Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Medical School

Mark R Schleiss, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Pediatric Society, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Russell W Steele, MD Clinical Professor, Tulane University School of Medicine; Staff Physician, Ochsner Clinic Foundation

Russell W Steele, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Immunologists, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Louisiana State Medical Society, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Itzhak Brook, MD, MSc Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Georgetown University School of Medicine

Itzhak Brook, MD, MSc is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, Association of Military Surgeons of the US, Infectious Diseases Society of America, International Immunocompromised Host Society, International Society for Infectious Diseases, Medical Society of the District of Columbia, New York Academy of Sciences, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Medical Association, Society for Ear, Nose and Throat Advances in Children, American Federation for Clinical Research, Surgical Infection Society, Armed Forces Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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