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Nocardial infection

Nocardiosis

Nocardial infection (nocardiosis) is a disorder that affects the lungs, brain, or skin. In otherwise healthy people, it may occur as a local infection. But in people with weakened immune systems, it may spread throughout the body.

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Causes

Nocardial infection is caused by a bacterium. It usually starts in the lungs. It may spread to other organs, most often the brain and the skin. It may also involve the kidneys, joints, heart, eyes, and bones.

Nocardial bacteria are found in soil around the world. You can get the disease by breathing in dust that has the bacteria. You can also get the disease if soil containing nocardial bacteria gets into an open wound.

You are more likely to get this infection if you have long-term (chronic) lung disease or a weakened immune system, which can occur with transplants, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and long-term use of steroids.

Symptoms

Symptoms vary and depend on the organs involved.

If in the lungs, symptoms may include:

If in the brain, symptoms may include:

If the skin is affected, symptoms may include:

Some people with nocardial infection have no symptoms.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms.

Nocardial infection is diagnosed using tests that identify the bacteria. For example, for an infection in the lung, a sputum culture may be done.

Depending on the part of the body infected, testing may involve taking a tissue sample by:

Treatment

You will need to take antibiotics for 6 months to a year or longer. You may need more than one antibiotic.

Surgery may be done to drain pus that has collected in the skin or tissues (abscess).

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well you do depends on your overall health and the parts of the body involved. Infection that affects many areas of the body is hard to treat, and some people may not be able to recover.

Possible Complications

Complications of nocardial infections depend on how much of the body is involved.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have any symptoms of this infection. They are nonspecific symptoms that can have many other causes.

References

Sorrell TC, Mitchell DH, Iredell JR, Chen SC-A. Nocardia species. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 255.

Southwick FS. Nocardiosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 330.

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Review Date: 12/1/2018  

Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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