Actinomycosis is a chronic bacterial disease. Localized swelling with suppuration, abscess formation, tissue fibrosis, and draining sinuses characterize this disease. Gram-positive, pleomorphic non–spore-forming, non–acid-fast anaerobic or microaerophilic bacilli of the genus Actinomyces and the order Actinomycetales cause actinomycosis. Actinomyces are very closely related to Nocardia species; both were once considered to be fungal organisms.
Infections of the oral and cervicofacial regions are the most commonly recognized infections; however, the thoracic region, abdominopelvic region, and the CNS are also frequently involved. Actinomyces israelii, Actinomyces naeslundii, Actinomyces odontolyticus, Actinomyces viscosus, and Actinomyces meyeri most frequently cause human actinomycosis. Actinomyces gerencseriae may also cause disease in humans. Three former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coryneform bacteria now have been added to the Actinomyces group and are thought to be potential causes for disease; these include Actinomyces neuii,
Actinomyces radingae, and Actinomyces turicensis. Actinomyces radicidentis, a recently described species, has been isolated with polymerase chain reaction from patients with endodontic infections.
Actinomyces species grow well in enriched media with brain-heart infusion and may be aided in growth by an atmosphere of 6-10% ambient carbon dioxide. They grow best at 37°C. Colonies can appear at 3-7 days, but, to ensure that no growth is missed, observe cultures for 21 days.
Propionibacterium propionicus and related species of bacteria can also cause actinomycosislike disease. Other bacteria that are frequently isolated from clinical specimens concomitantly with Actinomyces in human infection include Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans, Eikenella corrodens, and species of Fusobacterium, Bacteroides, Capnocytophaga, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Enterococcus.