Pneumonia Types Opportunistic

While most types of pneumonia can infect anyone regardless of health, opportunistic infections usually develop in people who are already ill, or who are undergoing medical treatment that suppresses their immune system.

Definition of Opportunistic Infection

The human body is host to a wide range of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most of these microorganisms are harmless to people with healthy immune systems. When the immune system is weakened by disease or deliberately suppressed, however, these normally harmless organisms can flourish and grow out of control, causing a number of opportunistic infections, including dangerous types of pneumonia.

Risk Factors for Opportunistic Pneumonia

AIDS patients are at high risk of opportunistic infections, due to the disease’s effect on the immune system. Other risk factors for opportunistic pneumonia include:

  • Bone marrow transplants
  • Cancer (including lymphoma and leukemia)
  • Long-term corticosteroid medication
  • Organ transplants
  • Stem cell transplants
  • Use of immunosuppressant medication.

Medical professionals define opportunistic organisms as infectious agents that wait for the right opportunity to develop. Most often, the right opportunity is when one’s immune system is weakened.

Types of Opportunistic Pneumonia

Opportunistic pneumonia infections can be viral, bacterial or fungal in nature. Fungal infections are often responsible for opportunistic types of pneumonia, including the normally harmless fungus Pneumocystis jiroveci. Pneumocystis jiroveci is present in many people’s lungs, and is normally kept under control by the immune system.

As an opportunistic infection, Pneumocystis jiroveci can cause pneumocystis pneumonia, which was once a leading cause of death in AIDS patients. The first signs of pneumocystis pneumonia are:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry cough
  • Fever.

Treating Opportunistic Pneumonia

Treatment for opportunistic pneumonia depends on the infectious agent. Bacteria-caused opportunistic pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, while fungal infections may respond to antifungal medication. Viral infections are usually treated with bed rest and fluids, but this treatment may also include antiviral medications.

One of the inherent difficulties of treating opportunistic infection is that the patient’s immune system is already impaired or under stress. This increases the risk of serious pneumonia symptoms if the disease isn’t carefully managed.

Preventing Opportunistic Infections

People at high risk of opportunistic pneumonia should take steps to lower their risk of opportunistic infections. Regular hand washing is vital, as well as avoiding anyone with any type of communicable disease.

Smoking increases the risk of respiratory infections and pneumonia in the general population, and should be avoided by anyone with a compromised immune system.

People at risk for opportunistic pneumonia should report any symptoms of respiratory disease to their doctors immediately. The sooner opportunistic pneumonia is detected, the better the chance of successful treatment.

Resources

AIDS.org Staff. (n.d.). Opportunistic infections. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the AIDS.org Web site: http://www.aids.org/factSheets/500-Opportunistic-Infections.html.

Mandanas, R. (2009). Pneumonia, fungal. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the eMedicine Web site: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/300341-overview.

University of Maryland Medical Center Staff. (2009). Pneumonia: Causes. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the University of Maryland Web site: http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_causes_pneumonia_000064_2.htm.

U.S National Library of Medicine Staff. (n.d.). Pneumocystis infections. Retrieved March 18, 2010, from the MedlinePlus Web site: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/pneumocystisinfections.html.