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Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia

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Alternative Names    Return to top

Pneumocystosis; PCP; Pneumocystis jiroveci

Definition    Return to top

Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) is a fungal infection of the lungs.

Causes    Return to top

PCP is a pneumonia caused by the fungal organism Pneumocystis carinii (now renamed Pneumocystis jiroveci). This organism is common in the environment and does not cause illness in healthy people.

However, Pneumocystis carinii can cause a lung infection in in people with a weakened immune system due to any of the following conditions:

PCP was a relatively rare infection before the AIDS epidemic. Before the use of preventive antibiotics for PCP, up to 70% of people in the U.S. with advanced AIDS would develop PCP.

Symptoms    Return to top

PCP in those with AIDS usually develops slowly and is less severe. People with PCP who do not have AIDS usually get sick faster and are more acutely ill.

Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Treatment    Return to top

The main treatment for PCP is with drugs that kill the bacteria (antimicrobial therapy). Antibiotics can be given by mouth (orally) or through a vein (intravenous), depending on the severity of the illness.

People with low oxygen levels and moderate to severe PCP often take corticosteroids as well.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia can be life-threatening, and respiratory failure can lead to death. People with this condition need early and effective treatment. For moderate to severe PCP in people with AIDS, the use of corticosteroids has decreased mortality.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

If you have a weakened immune system due to AIDS, cancer, transplantation, or corticosteroid use, call your doctor if you develop a cough, fever, or shortness of breath.

While many infections can lead to similar symptoms, you should have a medical evaluation to rule out opportunistic infections such as PCP.

Prevention    Return to top

Preventive therapy is recommended for:

Update Date: 11/1/2007

Updated by: Kenneth M. Wener, M.D., Department of Infectious Diseases, Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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