Burkholderia Cepacia hit our collective radar with a thud last week, as we learned of a massive recall of Children and Infant Tylenol, but the news reports, ours included, didn’t explain much about B. cepacia other than that it is a dangerous bacteria. Here is some more in-depth information about the little critters that may have found their way into infant and children’s Tylenol.
Burkholderia Cepacia (B. cepacia) is a group of bacteria that can cause a damaging and even fatal lung infection in people with compromised immune systems and lung disease. Cepacia is found naturally in soil, water, and rotting vegetation, and now some medications and medical devices are contaminated with the bacteria.
B. Cepacia Risk
B. cepacia is resistant to many antibiotics and can be very difficult to treat. It does not pose a threat to most healthy adult, but those who are at risk can become severely ill, suffer long-term damage to their health, and even die from the disease. Those at risk include people with compromised immune systems, infants, children, the elderly and people with lung disease. People with cystic fibrosis are at particularly high risk.
B. cepacia is contagious; it can be transmitted from person to person. It can also live on surfaces for two to 24 hours and can be transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces. Unfortunately, B. cepacia is sometimes spread as a nosocomial infection in hospitals, and several medications have been contaminated with B. cepacia bacteria. Recently, some lots of children’s Tylenol were recalled due to contamination.
B. Cepacia Symptoms
B. cepacia infection does not always show symptoms. The symptoms mimic any other lung infection, putting those with lung disease at risk for delayed diagnosis. Symptoms include cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, congestion, and fever. A culture is necessary for diagnosis.
B. Cepacia Progression
B. cepacia can cause pneumonia, inflammation of the lungs, and deterioration of lung function. In severe cases the bacteria spread throughout the body, lung function is rapidly decreased, and the disease becomes fatal.
Treatment is very difficult. B. cepacia bacteria are resistant to common antibiotics and even many topical antiseptics. There are several species of B. cepacia. Some can be treated with a combination of antibiotics.
B. Cepacia Prevention
It is difficult to avoid exposure to B. cepacia, but there are some things that can minimize the risk. Awareness and avoidance of people who are infected as well as contaminated substances is first and foremost. Of course, proper hand washing and cleaning of surfaces is a must.
Because the bacteria can live in the lungs for years without showing symptoms, people who are infected do not always know they are carrying the bacteria. It has become standard to test people with cystic fibrosis for the bacteria whenever they have a culture. This helps those who are infected to avoid spreading the illness to others who are at risk.