Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PCP) is an infection caused by
, a microscopic fungus that lives in the lungs of many people. The
infection usually causes no symptoms in healthy people, but can
cause pneumonia in infants who have AIDS, cancer, or other
conditions that affect the immune system.
In kids who are already seriously ill, symptoms of this form of
pneumocystis pneumonia begin suddenly with a fever, a cough, and
Pneumocystis pneumonia is the most common pediatric illness
associated with AIDS, especially in babies younger than 6 months,
and its prevention is very important in AIDS care.
Infants who are weak or sick also can develop pneumocystis
pneumonia. Usually the infant is 3 to 6 months old and has no
fever, but gradually begins to breathe faster than normal. As the
lung infection gets worse, breathing becomes more difficult, and
the baby's chest muscles may begin to retract (pull in
abnormally) with each breath. The child's lips, fingernails,
and skin also may turn blue or gray.
A doctor can sometimes diagnose pneumocystis pneumonia by X-ray or
by finding the organism in lung fluids that have been examined in
the laboratory. The doctor may need to use a bronchoscope to take a
tissue sample from inside the lungs. This sample will be sent to a
laboratory where special chemical stains can identify the
Even if your child has no other medical problems, call your
doctor immediately if your child has unusually rapid breathing or
difficulty breathing, is coughing, or has a blue or gray color to
his or her nails, lips, or skin.
Antibiotics, either alone or in special combinations, are
usually used to treat pneumocystis pneumonia. They may be given by
mouth or intravenously (into the veins) for at least 2 weeks. If
the child has AIDS, antibiotic treatment will probably last about 3
weeks. Depending on the severity of the PCP infection, the doctor
may add a steroid medication.
If your child has any condition that severely weakens the immune
system, check with your doctor about giving your child antibiotics
to prevent pneumocystis infection.
All infants born to HIV-infected mothers should begin treatment
to prevent PCP at 1 month of age until it's known for sure
whether they have the HIV infection.
Transmission of PCP
Research is ongoing about how pneumocystis is spread. Scientists
believe that it's transmitted through the air, but cannot yet
point to sources in the environment. Although animals may carry
pneumocystis, they do not seem to be able to pass it to humans.
Human-to-human spread may be possible, since there have been
hospital outbreaks among sick infants and children with weakened
Because of the seriousness of this infection, most kids who have
symptoms of pneumocystis infection are treated in the hospital.
Some of the different antibiotics that may be used to treat
pneumocystis can have side effects, which are easier to monitor in
Joel Klein, MD
Date reviewed: November 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.