What Is Fungal Pneumonia?

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Fungal pneumonia is a type of pneumonia caused by a fungal infection rather than the more common causes of bacteria or viruses. Typically fungal pneumonia affects people with compromised immune systems such as those with HIV or AIDS. This type of fungal pneumonia is caused by the fungusĀ Pneumocystis jirovecii (PCP).

Another common type of fungal pneumonia occurs as a result of an infection called Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) which is common in certain parts on the American Southwest.


Symptoms of fungal pneumonia vary depending on the type of pneumonia and any underlying health conditions you may have.

Symptoms of fungal pneumonia caused by PCP in people with HIV or AIDS may include fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and fatigue.

When fungal pneumonia is a result of Valley Fever, the symptoms include fever, cough, headache, rash, joint pain and muscle aches).

Unfortunately these symptoms can also be caused by many other illnesses, so diagnosis is often delayed.

Treatment Options

Depending on the type of fungal pneumonia that you have, treatment may or may not be necessary. Many cases of pneumonia caused by Valley Fever resolve on their own without treatment.

Some people are at higher risk from serious illness when they get Valley Fever and may be prescribed an antifungal medication like fluconazole to treat the infection. Those at high risk include people with compromised immune systems (such as people with HIV/AIDS, those undergoing cancer treatment or those who have other illnesses or conditions that weaken the immune system), pregnant women in their third trimester, African Americans and Asians.

If you are infected with PCP, treatment with an antibiotic called trimethoprim sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX) is necessary. The medication must be taken for three weeks and it may be taken as a pill or through an IV, depending on the severity of the illness and the level of care needed.


Pneumonia caused by Valley Fever occurs as a result of inhaling spores of the fungus Coccidioides, which lives in the soil.

Valley Fever causes flu-like symptoms that can last for weeks or months and causes this particular type of pneumonia as well.

The reason some people are infected with PCP is unknown. It almost always occurs in those with weakened immune systems but the fungus may live in a healthy person's lungs and never make them sick. It is thought that the fungus may be present and only cause illness when the immune system is severely compromised. Scientists are still learning more about how and why people get PCP.


Both types of fungal pneumonia we have covered here can be fatal.

Pneumonia caused by Valley Fever can lead to chronic pneumonia or it can spread from the lungs to the rest of the body and cause meningitis.

PCP is almost always fatal if left untreated.


Certain people are at higher risk for fungal pneumonia. Exposure to the spores that caused Valley Fever is highest among construction workers, Border Patrol agents, military personnel, prison inmates and archeologists that are frequently in dusty environments where the fungus is present (mainly parts of Arizona and California).

People at highest risk for PCP include those with HIV/AIDS, people undergoing cancer treatments and those who have had organ transplants. Children that have been exposed to HIV but don't have it and anyone with connective tissue disease or chronic lung disease are also at higher risk.

There is no vaccine to prevent either type of fungal pneumonia. People that are at high risk for PCP infection may need to take TMP-SMX antibiotics to prevent infection.

Wearing a special type of mask called an N95 mask may help reduce your risk of getting Valley Fever if you are at high risk and live in an area where it is prevalent. Trying to avoid dusty areas, using HEPA filters in your home and taking preventative antifungal medications may also be recommended depending on your level of risk and your health care provider's recommendations.

If you are at risk for either of these types of fungal pneumonia, talk to your health care provider about what you can do to prevent them.


"Fungal Pneumonia: A Silent Epidemic Coccidioidomycosis (valley fever)." National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases; Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases Dec 12. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 08 Apr 14.

"Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever)." Fungal Diseases 12 Mar 14. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 10 Apr 14.

"Pneumocystis Pneumonia." Fungal Diseases 13 Feb 14. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 13 Apr 14.

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