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Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) is a fungal infection of the lungs.

Alternative Names:

Pneumocystosis; PCP; Pneumocystis jiroveci

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

PCP is a pneumonia caused by the fungal organism Pneumocystis carinii (now renamed Pneumocystis jiroveci). This organism is common in the environment and does not cause illness in healthy people.

However, Pneumocystis carinii can cause a lung infection in in people with a weakened immune system due to any of the following conditions:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic use of corticosteroids or other medications that affect the immune system
  • Solid organ or bone marrow transplant

PCP was a relatively rare infection before the AIDS epidemic. Before the use of preventive antibiotics for PCP, up to 70% of people in the U.S. with advanced AIDS would develop PCP.


PCP in those with AIDS usually develops slowly and is less severe. People with PCP who do not have AIDS usually get sick faster and are more acutely ill.

Symptoms include:

  • Cough -- often mild and dry
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath -- especially with activity (exertion)

Signs and tests:


The main treatment for PCP is with drugs that kill the bacteria (antimicrobial therapy). Antibiotics can be given by mouth (orally) or through a vein (intravenous ), depending on the severity of the illness.

People with low oxygen levels and moderate to severe PCP often take corticosteroids as well.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia can be life-threatening, and respiratory failure can lead to death. People with this condition need early and effective treatment. For moderate to severe PCP in people with AIDS, the use of corticosteroids has decreased mortality.


Calling your health care provider:

If you have a weakened immune system due to AIDS, cancer, transplantation, or corticosteroid use, call your doctor if you develop a cough, fever, or shortness of breath.

While many infections can lead to similar symptoms, you should have a medical evaluation to rule out opportunistic infections such as PCP.


Preventive therapy is recommended for:

  • AIDS patients with CD4 counts below 200
  • People on chronic high-dose corticosteroids
  • People who have had previous episodes of PCP

Review Date: 11/1/2007
Reviewed By: Kenneth M. Wener, M.D., Department of Infectious Diseases, Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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