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Diseases reference index «Scrofula»

Scrofula is a tuberculous infection of the skin on the neck.


Scrofula in adults is most often caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In children, it is usually caused by Mycobacterium scrofulaceum or Mycobacterium avium.

Infection with mycobacteria is usually caused by breathing in air that is contaminated by these organisms.


  • Chills
  • Fevers (rare)
  • Painless swelling of lymph nodes in the neck and elsewhere in body
  • Sores (ulceration -- rare)
  • Sweats
  • Weight loss

Exams and Tests

Tests to diagnose scrofula include:

  • Examination of tissue sample under a microscope (histology)
  • Chest x-rays
  • Cultures to check for the bacteria in tissue samples taken from the lymph nodes
  • TB tine or PPD test


When infection is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, treatment usually involves 9 - 12 months of antibiotics. Several antibiotics need to be used at once. Common antibiotics for scrofula include:

  • Ethambutol
  • INH
  • Pyrazinamide
  • Rifampin

When infection is caused by another type of bacteria (which often occurs in children), therapy usually involves antibiotics such as rifampin, ethambutol, and clarithromycin.

Surgery is not usually needed. It is only done when medicines do not work well.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With treatment, patients usually make a complete recovery.

Possible Complications

  • Draining fistula in the neck
  • Ulcerated lymph nodes that produce draining sores
  • Scarring

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if your child has a swelling or group of swellings in the neck. Scrofula can occur in children who have not been exposed to someone with tuberculosis.


People who have been exposed to someone with tuberculosis of the lungs should have a PPD or Tine test.

Many occupations, such as nursing and medicine, require practitioners to get regular skin tests. People who immigrate to the United States from areas of the world where tuberculosis is common are also screened with such skin tests.

Alternative Names

Tuberculous adenitis

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