Systemic Mycoses Caused by Bacteria

The systemic mycoses are mainly fungus diseases that are often serious or even fatal.  The organisms invade the lungs or subcutaneous tissues; they may then spread to other organs of the body, where they become established and produce disease.  Many of these organisms are airborne and enter the body through the respiratory tract, although they may enter by other portals.

But there are two diseases classified as systemic mycoses that are actually caused not by fungi but rather by bacteria.  These bacteria, which are rod-shaped or filamentous, are known as actinomycetes; and the two systemic mycoses that are caused by actinomycetes are called actinomycosis and nocardiosis.

The bacteria Actinomyces israelii and Nocardia asteroides are the causative organisms of actinomycosis and nocardiosis, respectively.  Actinomyces israelii are gram-positive bacillary and branching forms that are referred to as “higher” bacteria.  These organisms occur as parasites in humans and other animals.  In tissues, they form hard “sulfur” granules.  They need blood for growth on media.

Nocardia asteroides are also gram-positive, filamentous “higher” bacteria.  Fragments of hyphae appear as bacilli (rod-shaped bacteria) or cocci (spherical bacteria).  Many strains are not easily decolorized by acids (acid-fast).  They are often found in soil, and grow well on ordinary media.

In humans, actinomycosis infections begin in the abdomen or lung cavity.  The organisms may penetrate the body through some break in the skin or mucous membrane, causing draining sinuses and abscesses in the neck, face, chest, and abdomen.  This disease occurs in all parts of the world, most commonly in rural males aged 20 to 40.  Usually, actinomycosis is acquired while a person is working with cattle.

When the bacteria that cause nocardiosis are introduced into the skin, they cause damage similar to that of actinomycosis.  When inhaled, these organisms may cause severe lung disease, with its early symptoms resembling those of tuberculosis.  The chief symptoms of nocardiosis are cough and pussy sputum.  The infection can cause large areas of consolidation, as well as cavities, in the lungs.  This disease may spread to the ribs and burrow through the chest wall.  Any part of the body may be attacked by nocardiosis infections.  This disease is most serious when the brain and its coverings are involved.

How are these two systemic mycoses treated or dealt with medically?  It is important to state here that both cases must be under the physician’s care; no home remedy is of any use.  Persistent treatment with antibiotics and sulfonamides will usually bring about a cure.  In the more serious cases of these systemic mycoses, surgery must be combined with the use of penicillin or other antibiotic drug.  Recovery is usual if the treatment is thorough and begun early; delay may be fatal.


1. “Systemic mycoses:  an overview for natural health professionals” by Robert J. Thiel –

2. “Actinomycosis” by Jason F. Okulicz, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Staff, Infectious Disease Service, Brooke Army Medical Center; Hari Polenakovik, MD, Consultant Physician in Infectious Diseases and General Medicine, Department of Medicine, Western Health, Australia; and Sylvia Polenakovik, MD, Clinical Instructor, Internist, Department of Internal Medicine, Wayne Hospital, Wright State University –

3. “Nocardiosis”, on The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library.