Pneumocystis pneumonia or PCP is a fungal infection in one or both lungs. It is common in people who have a weak immune system, such as people who have AIDS.
The disease is less common in the U.S. than it used to be. When it happens, you need medical attention right away.
The fungus Pneumocystis jiroveci causes PCP. Many people live with this fungus in their lungs every day. It’s common all over the world. It usually causes little to no trouble for people with healthy immune systems. But if your immune system is weakened by HIV/AIDS, cancer, organ transplant, medicines that suppress the immune system, or another condition that causes the immune system to not function well, you have a greater chance of getting PCP. PCP takes advantage of your weak immune system to attack.
If not treated right away, PCP can be severe and even fatal.
Symptoms of PCP may develop over a period of weeks or months. The most common symptoms to watch for include:
If you have any of these symptoms and think you could have PCP, especially if you have a condition that suppresses the immune system, see your healthcare provider right away.
Your healthcare provider can diagnose PCP based on your health history and a physical exam. Your provider may also do these tests:
If you have severe PCP, your provider will likely treat you in a hospital. You will get an intravenous (IV) medicine that is a combination of 2 antibiotics. They are trimethoprim (TMP) and sulfamethoxazole (SMX).
Other medicines are available to treat the condition. As you get better, you will likely be able to switch to antibiotics in a pill form.
If you have a disease that weakens your immune system, your healthcare provider will check your blood count regularly to see how strong your immune system is. If you have a weak immune system, your healthcare provider may give you medicine to prevent PCP before it happens.
Smokers are also at a greater risk of getting PCP. If you smoke, quitting will make your lungs healthier. It will also help keep you from getting lung infections like PCP.
The best way to prevent PCP if you have a weak immune system is to get regular blood tests and take preventive medicines when needed.Although flu and pneumococcal vaccines prevent people from getting certain types of pneumonia, they do not prevent PCP. In addition, people with weakened immune systems may not be candidates for their use. Talk to your healthcare provider about immunizations and which one may be appropriate for you.
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