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Pneumocystis Pneumonia

Did you know that pneumonia can be caused by fungi? It’s true. There are a few types of fungal pneumonia, one of them being Pneumocystis Pneumonia (PCP). PCP is a serious fungal infection that’s caused by the fungus Pneumocystis jirovecii. It causes the lungs to become inflamed and filled with fluid. Most people are exposed to this type of fungus by an early age ( around 3 or 4), but a healthy immune system is usually strong enough to fight off any infection that can occur due to exposure. In fact, people with strong immune systems tend to not contract PCP.

The majority of PCP cases appear in immunocompromised people—such as those with HIV or AIDS. In those cases, the immune system isn’t strong enough to fight off this infection, which can lead to serious complications.

Read more below to discover the symptoms of pneumocystis pneumonia, who’s most at risk for pneumocystis pneumonia, pneumocystis pneumonia treatments, and more.


Pneumocystis Pneumonia Symptoms

Symptoms of pneumocystis pneumonia include:

  • Activity-induced shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Rapid breathing
  • Exhaustion
  • Significant and unintentional weight loss
  • Chest pain when breathing

In people with HIV or AIDS, these symptoms tend to develop over several weeks instead of coming on hard and fast. In people who are otherwise immunocompromised, symptoms typically come on over a few days—not weeks—and are accompanied by a high fever.


NOTE: If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms and have HIV/AIDS or another disease that weakens your immune system, contact your physician immediately. Pneumocystis pneumonia can be fatal if left untreated in immunocompromised people. You can reach us at 423-710-3864.


Pneumocystis Pneumonia Risk Factors

The good news for healthy people is that the risk of developing pneumocystis pneumonia is extremely rare. In fact, PCP-causing fungus can live in the lungs of adults for several months at a time—but their immune systems remove the fungus after a few months.

Most people who develop PCP are immunocompromised. About 40% of people who develop PCP have HIV/AIDS. The remaining 60% of PCP cases come from people who are usually taking medication that lowers their ability to fight illness, or have other medical conditions like:

  • Stem cell transplant
  • Blood cancer
  • Solid organ transplant
  • Inflammatory disease/autoimmune disorders (like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)

Pneumocystis Pneumonia Diagnosis

Pneumocystis pneumonia is diagnosed by taking a sample from the lungs. This sample can either be mucus coughed up by the patient, or collected via a procedure called bronchoalveolar lavage. During this procedure, a bronchoscope is passed through the nose and mouth and into the lungs. This allows physicians to collect a small part of the lung to examine for the presence of the fungus.

In other cases, blood tests can be used to help diagnose PCP.

Pneumocystis Pneumonia Treatments

Pneumocystis pneumonia is officially classified as a type of fungal pneumonia, but it does not respond to typical antifungal treatment. For this reason, pneumocystis pneumonia must be treated with a specific kind of medication. If left untreated, PCP can be fatal—even in healthy people who do contract the disease. This medication is typically given either orally or intravenously for 3 weeks.

To help treat symptoms of pneumonia, your doctor may also suggest various medications to manage your pain and fever.


Pneumocystis Pneumonia Prevention

There is currently no vaccine that can help prevent PCP (unlike viral and bacterial pneumonia), but this is under development. In the meantime, there are good oral medications and IV therapies for acute illness and treatment, plus therapies to take for prevention and maintenance therapy in certain situations.  

If you are at risk of contracting PCP due to exposure from the Pneumocystis jirovecii fungus, your physician will work with you to develop a plan of care that reduces your risk of exposure to this fungus.

The Lung Docs: Specialized Pulmonary Care

The Lung Docs provides specialized, state-of-the-art pulmonary care to our patients with pneumocystis pneumonia in Chattanooga and the surrounding Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia areas.

Dr. Mike’s Approach

I’m Dr. Mike Czarnecki, “The Lung Doc,” and I’m trained in all areas of pulmonary health, including the diagnosis and treatment of pneumocystis pneumonia. I will work with you to formulate a personalized pneumocystis pneumonia treatment plan so you can live, laugh, love, and breathe better again! To get started, schedule an appointment online or call our office to speak to someone directly. I can’t wait to meet you!