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Pneumocystis (PCP) pneumonia

Pneumocystis pneumonia, or PCP, is a type of pneumonia associated with a low CD4 count in people with HIV.

PCP is caused by a fungus called Pneumocystis jirovecii and is called an opportunistic infection because it affects people with weakened immune systems.

The fungus can affect other parts of the body, too, including the lymph nodes, liver, and bone marrow.

PCP is a treatable and preventable infection.

Signs and symptoms of pneumocystis PCP pneumonia

At first, PCP may cause no symptoms. When it does cause symptoms these may include:

  • Fever
  • Mild and dry cough or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Major weight loss

Diagnosing pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP)

PCP can be diagnosed with the help of medical tests. These may include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Special laboratory tests examining sputum from the lungs and airways (called sputum induction)
  • Blood tests including evaluation for decreased oxygen levels
  • If sputum induction is unsuccessful, then a fluid sample taken from the lungs (during a procedure called a bronchoscopy) may be necessary
  • Sometimes a biopsy will be needed to confirm diagnosis.

Treating pneumocystis pneumonia

Cases of PCP are most often treated with antibiotics - alone or in combination with other drugs. Steroids are usually recommended to avoid inflammation of the airways.

Preventing pneumocystis pneumonia

There is no vaccine available to prevent this type of pneumonia. Because it raises CD4 counts, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is the best way to prevent PCP. If you are a smoker, you can reduce your risk of PCP by not smoking.

Another key to prevention is starting PCP medication before CD4 cell counts drop too low or you become too ill. Some of the same medications that are used to treat PCP can be used to try and prevent it.

This prophylactic therapy is recommended for those patients whose immune system is weakened due to illness or because of the medication they are taking.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 30, 2017

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