PCP is caused by a fungus.
Most believe that the fungus
is spread in the air, but it is not clear 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. The immune system may be weakened in people who:
Are using medications that may weaken the immune system
Have a history of PCP
Symptoms of PCP usually develop over the course of a few weeks or months. The main symptoms of PCP are:
Shortness of breath
Tightness or pain in the chest
See your doctor immediately if you have any these symptoms.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. 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:
Treatment depends on the severity of the infection.
Oral or IV anti-infectious agents will be given
Oral corticosteroids may be given if breathing problems occur
Supportive treatments, such as oxygen, to help with breathing
PCP infections can cause damage to your lungs and affect your overall health. Preventing a PCP infection is an important first step. 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. This will help prevent a PCP infection.
If you are at risk for PCP, your doctor may recommend that you take antibiotic medication to prevent getting it. Take preventative medication as recommended, do not skip doses. PCP prevention with medication may be recommended if:
You have HIV and your CD4 cell count falls below 200
You have a history of PCP
You plan to use immune suppressing medications for a long period of time
You have other conditions such as a temperature above 100˚F (37.7°C), or a fungal infection in your mouth or throat
Talk to your doctor about a
pneumococcal vaccine. This only protects you from a different kind of pneumonia. It will not prevent you from getting PCP.
Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/pneumonia/pneumocystis-jirovecii-pneumonia. Accessed January 29, 2021.
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