Hopkins ABX Guide

Burkholderia Cepacia Bacterium

What is Burkholderia Cepacia?

Burkholderia cepacia complex, also known simply as Burkholderia cepacia is a group of some 18 bacterium species from the Burkholderiaceae family. They are naturally occurring organisms and can be found in soil and water. All have a low virulence which means that they normally aren’t dangerous for humans. The exception are people with lung disease, especially those suffering from cystic fibrosis and immunocompromised individuals who can develop a very serious infection.

The bacteria were discovered in 1949 by the American plant pathologist Walter H. Burkholder (1891-1983) who identified them as pathogenic (disease-causing microorganism) in onions; more precisely, he identified the bacteria as the cause of onion skin disease. A few years later, Burkholderia cepacia were also identified as opportunistic pathogens in humans. In the 1970s, infection with Burkholderia cepacia was first detected in cystic fibrosis patients and was found to be fatal for approximately one third of patients who developed the infection.

Who is at Increased Risk of Burkholderia Cepacia Infection?

Healthy adults are very unlikely to get infected with Burkholderia cepacia. The bacteria, however, can be very dangerous for people with chronic lung disease, in the first place cystic fibrosis patients and individuals who are suffering from conditions that affect the immune system such as AIDS and cancer. If exposed to the Burkholderia cepacia, they can develop a very dangerous infection. The bacteria are most often transmitted through contaminated liquids and objects/devices in a hospital setting but the bacteria can also be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces, through direct physical contact with other people and through exposure to the bacteria in their natural environment.

Symptoms of Burkholderia Cepacia Infection

Symptoms of Burkholderia cepacia infection vary greatly. Some people including those in high risk groups may not develop any symptoms. Others, especially those with chronic lung disease may develop pneumonia and worsening of their condition. The infection can lead to worsening of the overall health and death.

Treatment of Burkholderia Cepacia Infection

Burkholderia cepacia infection is usually treated with a combination of multiple antibiotics because the bacteria have developed resistance to the majority of antibiotics. In the recent decade, there have been important breakthroughs in the development of non-antibiotic treatments for antibiotic-resistant strains and species including Burkholderia cepacia. Unfortunately, more research is necessary on their efficacy and safety, and then to be tested to be considered for approval for clinical use.