My patient with autoimmune hepatitis has been on less than 20 mg of prednisone daily for the past month and now complains of dyspnea. What is the dose of prednisone that should make me worry about Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PCP) in her?

The risk of infection in patients on glucocorticoids (GCs) is likely determined not only by the dose and duration of treatment but also by the nature of the underlying disease requiring GC therapy (eg, asthma, autoimmune disease, malignancy),   use of additional immunosuppressants, as well as individual host sensitivity to the effects of GCs1,2.  For these reasons, it is often difficult to determine how much GCs will be too much for a specific patient when discussing opportunistic infections such as PCP in patients without HIV infection.

In patients with an autoimmune disease such as ours, as little as 12 mg/day of prednisone on presentation or as few as 5 days of GC therapy has been associated with PCP3.  Because the critical amount of immunosuppression necessary for PCP to cause disease is unclear4, and autoimmunity is often associated with T-cell dysregulation5, it is prudent to consider PCP in the differential of diagnosis of dyspnea (along with fever or pulmonary infiltrates if present) in this patient despite not receiving “high” doses of prednisone daily.  It is also important to remember that many cases of PCP occur during GC taper4.

 

References

  1. Lionakis MS, Kontoyiannis DP. Glucocorticoids and invasive fungal infections. Lancet 2003;362:1828-38.
  2. Youssef J, Novosad SA, Winthrop KL. Infection risk and safety of corticosteroids. Rheum Dis Clin N Am 2016; 42; 157-176.
  3. Yale SH, Limper AH. Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in patients without acquired immunodeficiency syndrome: associated illness and prior corticosteroid therapy. Mayo Clin Proc 1996;71:5-13.
  4. Sepkowitz KA, Brown AE, Armstrong D. Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia without acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Arch Intern Med 1995;1125-28.
  5. Arkwright PD, Abinun M, Cant AJ. Autoimmunity in human immunodeficiency diseases. Blood 2002;99:2694-2707.
My patient with autoimmune hepatitis has been on less than 20 mg of prednisone daily for the past month and now complains of dyspnea. What is the dose of prednisone that should make me worry about Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PCP) in her?

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