Burkholderia cepacia

Fact Sheet

What you should know about Burkholderia cepacia infection

March 26, 2004

About Burkholderia cepacia (B. cepacia)

B. cepacia is the name for a group or “complex” of bacteria that can be found in soil and water. B. cepacia bacteria are often resistant to common antibiotics.

Populations susceptible to B. cepacia infection

B. cepacia poses little medical risk to healthy people. However, people who have certain health problems like weakened immune systems or chronic lung diseases, particularly cystic fibrosis (CF), may be more susceptible to infections with B. cepacia. B cepacia is a known cause of infections in hospitalized patients.

Symptoms of B. cepacia infection

The effects of B. cepacia on people vary widely, ranging from no symptoms at all, to serious respiratory infections, especially in patients with CF.

How B. cepacia infection is spread

Transmission of B. cepacia from contaminated medicines and devices has been reported.

In 2005, CDC was notified by several states of clusters of pneumonia and other infections caused by B. cepacia and associated with contaminated mouthwash. For more information see the CDC Health Advisory (HAN).

In 2004, CDC was notified of a voluntary recall of over-the-counter nasal spray due to contamination with B. cepacia complex.
For more information see the MMWR article and also the CDC Health Update (HAN) for a complete list of recalled lot numbers.

Also in 2004, B. cepacia was attributed to nosocomial infections among ICU patients and associated with exposure to sublingual probes. For more information see the MMWR article.

For a comprehensive list of medicines and devices that have been associated with B. cepacia contamination before 2003, see p. 43 of CDC’s Environmental Guidelines for Healthcare Facilities.

B. cepacia can also be spread to susceptible persons by

  • person-to-person contact

  • contact with contaminated surfaces

  • exposure to B. cepacia in the environment.

Careful attention to infection control procedures like hand hygiene can help reduce the risk of transmission of this organism. For more information on hand hygiene and infection control practices see, Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings and Guideline for Isolation Precautions in Hospitals

Treatment of B. cepacia infection

B. cepacia can be resistant to many common antibiotics. Decisions on the treatment of infections with B. cepacia should be made on a case-by-case basis.

What CDC is doing

CDC has issued a CDC Health Advisory about the current recall of contaminated nasal spray and is working with state and local health departments to monitor reported cases of infection. CDC is also working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this issue.

For more information:

See the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Web site for more information about the risks of B. cepacia infection for people with CF.


Date last modified: December 19, 2005
Content source: 
Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion (DHQP)
National Center for Preparedness, Detection, and Control of Infectious Diseases