Cross-infection, or cross contamination, occurs when one person spreads an infection to another, either directly or indirectly. Find out how cross-infection affects people with cystic fibrosis, and what is done to combat the issue.

For people with cystic fibrosis, cross-infection can be very harmful and poses a particular threat. This is why people with cystic fibrosis should not meet face to face.

What is cross-infection?

People with cystic fibrosis are vulnerable to different bacteria or 'bugs', which grow in their lungs. While these bugs are usually harmless to people who don't have cystic fibrosis, they can settle in the lungs (colonise) and be harmful for those who do. These bugs can be easily transmitted from one person with cystic fibrosis to another.

Nurse discussing with CF patient

There is less risk of transmission of 'bugs' in an outdoor environment, but meeting indoors, travelling with other people with cystic fibrosis, or spending time with them socially has a high level of risk. The risk of cross infection increases the longer people with cystic fibrosis are in close proximity to one another.

Bugs such Burkholderia cepacia complex and Pseudomonas aeruginosa can be transmitted from person to person by close personal contact and activities such as meeting, sharing rooms, medical equipment, cutlery or crockery; and by kissing or coughing.

Which bugs can be passed on through cross-infection?

There are a number of infections or bugs that can affect people with cystic fibrosis even though they are usually harmless to people who don't have the condition. These include:

  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pseudomonas)
  • Mycobacterium abscessus (M. abscessus)
  • Burkholderia cepacia complex (B. cepacia)
  • Aspergillus fumigatus (Aspergillus)

Find out more about the bugs that can affect people with cystic fibrosis, how common they are in the UK and what research the Cystic Fibrosis Trust is funding to develop more effective treatments to combat them.

Surgeons at work

Transplants and cross-infection

People who have had a lung transplant need to take powerful medication for the rest of their lives to dampen down their immune system and to protect the transplanted lungs from rejection. This medication, which is called immunosuppression, has the unwanted effect of increasing the risk of infection in those taking it.

It is therefore important that after having a lung transplant people avoid, where possible, any non-essential contact with anyone who has an active infection, especially winter bugs, colds and flu. Although the annual flu jab is essential to protect against severe flu it does not protect people from seasonal bugs and colds.

After a lung transplant it might also be necessary to avoid close contact with other people with cystic fibrosis if their lungs are infected with particular bacteria or fungi. This is decided on an individual basis and should be discussed with the transplant centre. Some people after lung transplant may continue to carry bacteria or fungi in their sinuses or upper airway or their newly transplanted lungs which might pose a risk to other people who have had a lung transplant. If this is the case some restrictions on contact with them might be advised. Again this is individual and should be discussed with the transplant centre.

Nontuberculous Mycobacterium abscessus (NTM) and transplants

A working group brought together by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and including healthcare professionals and experts on microbiology and cross-infection has released new advice to help protect people with cystic fibrosis from catching infection with NTM.

If you are organising or taking part in an event, please read our cross-infection policy.

Read the guidelines on NTM infection issued by Thorax, the international journal for health professionals working in respiratory medicine.

If you are feeling isolated and want to speak to others about cross-infection, or share tips, support and advice, check out our Forum. You will need to sign up to access the Forum.

Cross-infection at events

We also have guidelines on how to reduce the risk of cross-infection at events, particularly those organised by or in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, where there is likely to be interest from people with cystic fibrosis.

Find out more

Find out more about the research funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust that is tackling the dangerous bugs passed through cross-infection. 

Consensus documents

Our consensus documents are designed for clinicians and allied health professionals involved in treating people with cystic fibrosis.

Emma's story

Read a personal account of cross-infection and why it's important to consider how it affects people with cystic fibrosis.

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