Actinomycoses and Nocardia pulmonary infections

Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2006 May;12(3):228-34. doi: 10.1097/01.mcp.0000219273.57933.48.


Purpose of review: Actinomycosis and nocardiosis are uncommon pulmonary infections with distinct morphologic features. Both infections most commonly present as chronic, debilitating illnesses with radiographic manifestations simulating lung cancer or tuberculosis. Immunocompromised hosts, however, may develop fulminant disease resembling acute bacterial pneumonia. The purpose of this review is primarily to review the clinical features, diagnosis, and management of actinomycosis and nocardiosis.

Recent findings: Treatment of actinomycosis is usually simple, requiring long-term, high-dose intravenous penicillin. Short-course chemotherapy, however, has recently been reported to be successful. Pulmonary nocardiosis is an important cause of opportunistic infection in immunosuppressed patients, and the incidence of this infection is increasing. The sulfonamides are still first-line agents in the management of nocardiosis, but resistance is most common among N. farcinica and N. otitidiscaviarum isolates. Carbapenems should be used as an alternative treatment for severely ill patients. Broth microdilution, E-test (AB Biodisk, Solna, Sweden) and BACTEC (Becton Dickinson, Sparks, Maryland, USA) radiometric method may be more useful in the routine clinical laboratory for antimicrobial testing of aerobic actinomycetes.

Summary: The practical distinction between the two diseases is in the matter of therapy. Diagnosis depends on a high degree of suspicion so as to alert the microbiology and pathology laboratories to employ special methods to identify the organisms. Early recognition and prompt treatment usually results in complete cure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actinomyces / isolation & purification*
  • Actinomycosis / diagnosis
  • Actinomycosis / drug therapy
  • Actinomycosis / microbiology*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis
  • Lung Diseases / drug therapy
  • Lung Diseases / microbiology*
  • Nocardia / isolation & purification*
  • Nocardia Infections / diagnosis
  • Nocardia Infections / drug therapy
  • Nocardia Infections / microbiology*


  • Anti-Infective Agents