Pneumocystis pneumonia, also known as PCP, is caused by an infection of the fungus Pneumocystis jiroveci. Most healthy people will not show any signs of infection if exposed to the fungus. People who have weakened immune systems, such as those who suffer from HIV or who are undergoing chemotherapy, are more likely to develop signs of pneumocystis pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumocystis pneumonia include trouble breathing, cough, and fever.
A cough is a common sign of pneumocystis pneumonia. Usually, the cough is dry and mild. It is often accompanied by a fever. If a person has HIV/AIDS, the symptoms of pneumocystis pneumonia may come on slowly. Other immuno-suppressed patients will experience a sudden onset of symptoms. People who have healthy immune systems are usually able to effectively fight the infection without developing any signs or symptoms.
Difficulty breathing, especially after exertion or exercise, is one of the most noticeable signs of pneumocystis pneumonia. A person's breathing may increase and become rapid, and he may experience tightness in his chest. In some cases, particularly in young children, the lips and nails may turn blue from lack of oxygen.
Even though the signs of PCP are usually very mild and would not be a cause for concern for a healthy person, they can be life threatening in a person who has a weakened immune system. Pneumocystis pneumonia can be effectively diagnosed by a doctor and treated if caught early on. The disease is usually diagnosed through a lung biopsy, chest x-ray, or by testing a person's mucus for the fungus. A doctor may also insert a bronchoscope into a person's airways to examine the lungs.
The disease can be treated with antibiotics, usually in a hospital setting, so that the patient can be closely monitored. Depending on how severe a person's case of PCP is, she can either take the medicine orally or through an intravenous needle. Antibiotics are typically given for a course of two or three weeks. In some instances, a patient may also take a course of corticosteroids if his oxygen is low.
While vaccinations are available for other types of pneumonia, there is no vaccine available for pneumocystis pneumonia. Getting the infection once does not give a person immunity against a recurrent infection, so care needs to be taken. Those with HIV usually take TMP-SMX, a type of antibiotic, to prevent infection, especially if their CD4 counts are below 200.