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Pneumocystis Pneumonia

Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) is a form of pneumonia that affects people with a weakened immune system. PCP is the most common serious infection among people with AIDS.

The Lungs (Cut-away View)

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Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

What Causes PCP?

A fungus causes PCP. Most believe that the fungus spreads through the air; we do not know if the fungus lives in soil or elsewhere. In healthy people, the fungus can exist in the lungs without causing pneumonia. However, in people who have a weakened immune system, the fungus can spread and cause a lung infection.

A weakened immune system can put you at risk for PCP. Your immune system can be weakened by:

  • AIDS
  • Cancer and cancer treatments
  • Steroids
  • Previous PCP infections

Symptoms of PCP usually develop over the course of a few weeks or months and include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Weakness

See your doctor immediately if you have any these symptoms. To confirm PCP, a sample of mucus from your lungs will be examined under the microscope. Your doctor will collect samples by giving you either a vapor treatment or a bronchoscopy.

Treating PCP

Treatment depends on the severity of the infection.

  • Oral or intravenous anti-infectious agents 
  • Oral corticosteroids may be given if breathing problems occur
  • Supportive treatments, such as oxygen, can help with breathing

How to Prevent PCP

Keep Your Immune System Healthy

A healthy immune system is the best prevention for PCP. See your doctor as recommended to help monitor your immune system. If you have HIV, follow your treatment program to keep your immune system healthy. 

Take an Antiobiotic

If you are at risk for PCP, your doctor may recommend that you take antibiotic medication to prevent getting it, especially if you have:

  • HIV and your CD4 cell count falls below 200
  • Plans to use immune suppressing medications for a long period of time
  • A temperature above 100˚F that lasts for more than 2 weeks
  • A fungal infection in your mouth or throat

You can also talk to your doctor about a pneumonia vaccine. This only protects you from a different kind of pneumonia. It will not prevent you from getting PCP.

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Learn about our lung treatments.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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