Skip to Content

Health Library

Pneumocystis Pneumonia and AIDS

Topic Overview

Pneumocystis is a fungus that can sometimes cause pneumonia in people who have AIDS.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Pneumonia can make it hard to breathe and to get enough oxygen into the bloodstream. Symptoms often begin suddenly and may be similar to those of an upper respiratory infection, such as influenza or a cold. Common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Fever of 100°F (38°C) to 106°F (41°C).
  • Shaking chills.
  • Cough that often produces colored mucus (sputum) from the lungs. Sputum may be rust-colored or green or tinged with blood. Older adults may have only a slight cough and no sputum.
  • Rapid, often shallow breathing.
  • Chest wall pain, often made worse by coughing or deep breathing.
  • Fatigue and feelings of weakness (malaise).

Your doctor may suggest an HIV test if you have not been diagnosed with HIV and Pneumocystis pneumonia is:

  • Suspected on a chest X-ray.
  • Detected in a test that evaluates sputum (thick fluid produced in the lungs and in the airways leading to the lungs).

If you get PCP, it can be treated. Antibiotics can get rid of the infection. You can also take care of yourself at home:

  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take all your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicine. If you are taking IV medicine at home, follow your doctor's instructions.
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep. You may feel weak and tired for a while, but your energy level will improve with time.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Take care of your cough so you can rest. A cough that brings up mucus from your lungs is common with pneumonia. It is one way your body gets rid of the infection. But if coughing keeps you from resting or causes severe fatigue and chest-wall pain, talk to your doctor. He or she may suggest that you take a medicine to reduce the cough.
  • Use a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air. Dry air makes coughing worse. Follow the instructions for cleaning the machine.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Have your blood tested regularly to check the strength of your immune system and to help your doctor decide if you need to take medicines to prevent this type of pneumonia. If you were diagnosed with HIV but are not being treated for it, start antiretroviral therapy (ART) to help strengthen your immune system and lower the risk of PCP returning.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised April 5, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.