Nocardiosis is a
rare infection caused by the Nocardia asteroides bacterium. This type of bacteria can be found in
the soil and water of regions around the world. People may become infected with
this bacteria when they inhale it or
when the bacteria enter an open wound. The infection can’t be
spread from one person to another.
commonly occurs in the lungs, but it may spread to other areas of the
body, such as the:
- digestive system
Though nocardiosis can develop in anyone, the condition is much
more likely to affect people with very weak immune systems. An immune system
may become compromised as a result of:
- lung disease
- a bone marrow or organ transplant
- the long-term use of steroid medications
In the United States, it’s estimated that 500 to 1,000 cases of
nocardiosis occur each year. In about 60 percent of these cases, the infection
is related to a weak immune system.
Since a Nocardia infection
is usually slow to respond to treatment, it can be life-threatening for those
with weakened immune systems, especially if diagnosis and treatment are
delayed. It’s important to seek treatment as soon as symptoms develop. This can
help prevent the infection from spreading and causing complications.
Are the Symptoms of Nocardiosis?
The symptoms will vary depending on the area of the body that has
Nocardiosis most commonly affects the lungs. If your lungs are
infected, you may experience:
- a fever
- chest pain
- a cough
- night sweats
The skin is the second most commonly affected area. If your skin
becomes infected with Nocardia
bacteria, you may experience:
- open, seeping sores
- swollen lymph nodes
In some cases, the infection can spread to other parts of the
body and cause varying symptoms.
If the infection spreads to your digestive system, you may
- sudden weight loss
- abdominal swelling
If the infection spreads to your brain, you may experience:
Is Nocardiosis Diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose this infection by performing various
tests that check for the presence of N. asteroides bacteria. These tests
may include the following:
- A chest X-ray is an imaging test that produces
detailed images of the lungs.
- A bronchoscopy is a test in which your doctor uses
a thin tube with an attached camera to view the lungs.
- A brain biopsy is a procedure that involves
removing a small sample of abnormal brain tissue.
- A lung biopsy is a procedure that involves
removing a small sample of abnormal lung tissue.
- A skin biopsy is a procedure that involves
removing a small sample of abnormal skin cells.
- A sputum culture is a procedure that involves
taking a small sample of mucus.
Is Nocardiosis Treated?
All cases of nocardiosis
should be treated with long-term and low-dose antibiotics known as
sulfonamides. Treatment typically lasts from six months to a year. However,
more severe infections may require treatment for a longer period.
If you develop an abscess due to this infection, your doctor may
recommend surgery to drain it.
Are the Complications Associated with Nocardiosis?
A number of complications can arise from this infection. These
vary depending on the area of the body that has become infected:
- A lung infection might lead to scarring or
long-term shortness of breath.
- A skin infection might lead to disfigurement or
- A brain infection might lead to the loss of
certain brain functions.
Is the Outlook for People with Nocardiosis?
Your long-term outlook will largely depend on the area of the
body that has become infected. The health and stability of your immune system
will also play a role in how easily your symptoms can be treated.
most cases, nocardiosis can be treated successfully with antibiotics,
especially when treatment is received early. However, the infection can become
life-threatening when multiple areas of the body become infected at the same
time. It’s especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems.