What is Burkholderia Cepacia?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2019
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Burkholderia cepacia is a very common bacterium that can cause serious respiratory tract infections. It is a robust, prolific pathogen that can survive in soil, water, and even normally sterile mediums such as antibacterial soaps and medication vials. The bacterium is harmless to most healthy people, but individuals with weakened immune systems are at a high risk of infection. Burkholderia cepacia is resistant to many common antibiotics and can quickly adapt new defenses to medications, so it can be difficult to treat. Patients who fall ill are typically quarantined in hospital rooms and given several types of antibiotics until one is found that works.

It is nearly impossible to prevent exposure to Burkholderia cepacia in highly-populated communities and crowded buildings, such as hospitals. The human immune system is usually strong enough to prevent Burkholderia cepacia infection, but certain conditions can lead to serious complications. People who have AIDS and cancer patients receiving chemotherapy are at a high risk of infection. A genetic condition called cystic fibrosis, which involves chronic lung disease, greatly increases the chances of catching the bacteria and experiencing severe symptoms.


A person who develops a mild Burkholderia cepacia infection may not have any symptoms at all. Some people experience a wet cough, a sore throat, and a mild fever. In the case of a severe infection, an individual can have symptoms of pneumonia, such as high fever, chills, fatigue, and chest pains. Cystic fibrosis patients are likely to develop chronic, mucus- and blood-filled coughs and extreme difficulties breathing without the aid of oxygen masks.

Doctors who suspect Burkholderia cepacia can confirm the diagnosis by analyzing blood samples and mucus cultures collected from the back of the throat. Laboratory specialists first test samples to see if the bacterium is present, and then attempt to eradicate the pathogen from cultures with different types of antibiotics. Medications that are found to be effective against cultures are immediately given to the patient through an intravenous line.

Co-trimoxazole, cefepime, and meropenem are frequently the most beneficial antibiotics in treating an acute infection. Some strains of the bacteria develop resistance to these medicines, however, and several other drugs may need to be given on a trial-and-error basis until an effective one is discovered. Other symptoms such as chest pain, breathing difficulties, and fever are treated accordingly with other medications and clinical procedures. Burkholderia cepacia infections can usually be cured in about two weeks with consistent treatment and careful monitoring.


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Post 2

@ Copper Salmon

My daughter had this burkholderia infection and she was in the hospital for a week and a half. Nothing was working! After everything calmed down (she's home now), I started researching the effects of over using antibiotics and it's pretty scary. I'm sure this has happened to a lot of people.

Post 1

What is up with all of these drug resistant bacterial infections? My dad is going through cancer treatments and I've been researching illnesses he will be susceptible to. The author even says that people with low immune systems are at a greater risk for infection. I feel so stressed right now. Has anyone heard about stenotrophomonas maltophilla? The infection is not as common as burkholderia, but also is very difficult to treat in humans because it's resistant to many antibiotics. I think doctors need to be really careful about over-prescribing antibiotics. This is getting ridiculous!

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