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BACKGROUND: An extrahuman reservoir of human pathogenic Pneumocystis carinii remains unknown. Host to host transmission has been described in animal studies and in cluster cases among immunodeficient patients. P carinii DNA has recently been detected in air filters from inpatient and outpatient rooms in departments of infectious diseases managing patients with P carinii pneumonia (PCP), suggesting the airborne route of transmission. Exposure of staff to P carinii may occur in hospital departments treating patients with PCP. METHODS: Exposure to P carinii was detected by serological responses to human P carinii by ELISA, Western blotting, and indirect immunofluorescence in 64 hospital staff with and 79 staff without exposure to patients with PCP from Denmark and Sweden. DNA amplification of oropharyngeal washings was performed on 20 Danish staff with and 20 staff without exposure to patients with PCP. RESULTS: There was no significant difference in the frequency or level of antibodies to P carinii between staff exposed and those unexposed to patients with PCP. None of the hospital staff had detectable P carinii DNA in oropharyngeal washings. CONCLUSIONS: There is no difference in antibodies and no detectable P carinii DNA in oropharyngeal washings, which suggests that immunocompetent staff treating patients with PCP are not a potentially infectious source of P carinii for immunocompromised patients.