Great Strides 2008
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The Real Deal: B. cepacia

Claim:  The CF Foundation has a policy that individuals with cystic fibrosis who have tested positive for Burkholderia cepacia complex (B. cepacia) shall not attend events sponsored by the Foundation.

Background:  Burkholderia cepacia complex, or B. cepacia, is a family of common bacteria found in water and soil that survives for long periods of time in moist environments. Although B. cepacia poses little medical risk to healthy individuals, those with weakened immune systems or chronic lung disease, such as CF, are more susceptible to infections with B. cepacia.

People with CF are particularly vulnerable because the mucus that lines their lungs allows germs, like B. cepacia, to survive. The thick mucus causes these germs to “get stuck” in the airways, triggering inflammation and infection, which leads to lung damage.

The effects of B. cepacia on people with CF vary from person to person. In some people, infection with B. cepacia does not rapidly speed-up lung deterioration. However, for some people with CF, B. cepacia lowers lung function quickly, posing serious health risks, including death. In the United States, approximately three percent of people with CF are infected with B. cepacia.

People with CF can contract B. cepacia from those infected with these bacteria by direct contact through bodily fluids (saliva or sputum), by person-to-person contact (shaking hands) or by contact with contaminated items (tissues or ATM keypads).

It is imperative to minimize the risk of B. cepacia among people with CF because of its potentially devastating health effects. Following basic health precautions can reduce the spread of these bacteria. People with CF should always:

B. cepacia is extremely difficult to treat once it infects the lungs because it is resistant to many antibiotics. The best defense against acquiring these bacteria is good hand hygiene and avoidance of others who are infected.

The Real Deal:  The claim about the Foundation’s B. cepacia policy is accurate. B. cepacia is a dangerous bacterium that can be spread between people with CF and cause a rapid decline in lung function, possibly leading to death. Because of this, individuals with CF who have had a positive sputum culture for B. cepacia shall not attend events sponsored by the Foundation. It is imperative that people with CF practice good infection control habits to minimize the spread of B. cepacia.