Pneumocystis carinii is a very common organism that may be residing harmlessly in the lungs of healthy persons. IT is only when the body’s defenses are lowered due to cancer, cancer treatment or aids that it may cause pneumonia. It is often the first indication that a person with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection has developed the disease.
In many people, a fever, shortness of breath and a dry cough may develop. These symptoms generally manifest after several weeks. The capacity of the lungs to optimally oxygenate the blood may be hampered leading to shortness of breath.
Pneumocystis carinii, is now actually considered a fungus rather than a protozoan and causes disease only when bodily defenses are weakened especially when there are deficiencies in cell-mediated immunity as in hematologic malignancies, cancer chemotherapy, lymphoproliferative diseases and AIDS. Approximately 30% of the patients with HIV infection have P. carinii pneumonia as the initial aids confirming diagnosis and more than 80% of AIDS patients develop this infection at some point of time if prophylaxis is not given.
X-rays reveal either no abnormality or just a patchy infection, similar to what is observed in some viral infections. The diagnosis is arrived at by microscopic examination of a sputum sample obtained by either of the two techniques—sputum induction (where a vapor is used to stimulate coughing) or bronchoscopy (in this an instrument is inserted into the airways to collect a sample.
To prevent pneumocystis pneumonia in people at risk, the combination antibiotic trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole can be administered. The side effects of this drug, particularly common in people having AIDS, are rashes, fever and a reduced number of infection fighting white blood cells. Other preventive drug treatments include atovaquone, dapsone and pentamidine ( which is inhaled directly into the lungs like an aerosol.)
A person infected with pneumocystis pneumonia, will have cough, fever, trouble breathing (especially after exercise) and experience chest tightness. If symptoms such as these are observed, it is best to see a doctor right away. In most cases, the infection is mild but severe pneumocystis pneumonia may be fatal if it is not treated promptly. Pneumocystis pneumonia can be diagnosed by sending fluid or tissue from the lungs to the lab for testing.
The disease is rare in people with healthy immune systems but common among those suffering from AIDS. Pneumocystis pneumonia could develop in patients who are on immune suppressant medications (people having undergone organ transplant surgeries) and in those who have undergone bone marrow transplantation.
In seriously ill children, symptoms of pneumocystis pneumonia begin quite suddenly with a cough, fever and breathing difficulty. It is the most common pediatric ailment related to AIDS, especially in infants younger than 6 months, and its prevention constitutes a very important aspect of AIDS care. Sick and weak infants could also develop pneumocystis pneumonia. The infant could be between 3 to 6 months old and without any fever, but gradually begins to breathe quick, fast breaths. As the lung infection deteriorates, the breathing becomes more difficult and its chest muscles begin to retract (pull in unnaturally) with each breath. The child’s fingernails, lips and skin could take on a bluish or grayish tinge.
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