COMBATING INFECTION: Mounting a defense against Burkholderia cepacia

May 2005 
Volume 35  Number 5
Pages 18 - 19
  PDF Version Available!


  • At home in nature

  • Stopping the spread of disease

  • Protecting patients with CF



  • CAPABLE OF SURVIVING for weeks in sputum and for years in water, Burkholderia cepacia is a potentially fatal opportunistic nosocomial pathogen. Because it thrives in moisture, it has a particular affinity for the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). But it can also infect immunocompromised people and other vulnerable patients, including those requiring intensive care or mechanical ventilation. Disease can spread person-to-person or via contact with contaminated surfaces, fluids, or droplets.

    Notoriously resistant to common antiseptics and most antibiotics, B. cepacia is difficult to eradicate. Disease transmission has been traced to B. cepacia contamination of antiseptics, including povidone-iodine and chlorohexidine-cetrimides solution, dye added to enteral feedings, mouthwash, nasal spray, and even hand lotion.

    In 2003, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America issued infection control guidelines for health care workers caring for CF patients. (See Protecting patients with CF and Selected reference.) Here, I'll discuss how learning more about B. cepacia and following infection control guidelines can help protect all your patients from this disease.

    At home in nature

    Previously known as Pseudomonas cepacia, B. cepacia is a Gramnegative rod living naturally in soil, water, and plants. Because it can metabolize just about anything, it's been used to break down toxic waste in the environment. Heating and drying are the best ways to kill it.

    Nine similar but genomically distinct species make up the B. cepacia complex. These species are known as genomovars , or basic combinations of genes. Each genomovar, in turn, has various strains. Genomovar III and genomovar II are most prevalent ...

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