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Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP)

for Veterans and the Public

Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP)

A fungus found in many places in the environment causes this condition. Nearly two out of three children have been exposed to it by age 4. However, PCP rarely causes disease unless there are underlying problems with the immune system, like HIV. The fungus can affect many organs, the most common being the lung.

Symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • shortness of breath
  • dry cough
  • night sweats or fatigue

The usual treatment is with antibiotics called sulfa drugs. Do not take dairy products within 2 hours before, or 1 hour after, a dose of sulfa. (Dairy products can interfere with your body's ability to absorb the medicine.)

After completing treatment, if you experience shortness of breath (especially with exercise), fever, chills and sweats, or a new cough, see your doctor.

PCP is much more common in persons with a CD4 count less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. Starting combination antiretroviral therapy before your CD4 count gets this low, or, if you already have a CD4 count less than 200, taking daily doses of protective antibiotics, greatly reduces the risk of developing PCP.