Between 1981 and 1983, some 85 patients with cystic fibrosis at Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital, Cleveland, developed colonization or infection of the respiratory tract with Pseudomonas cepacia. Twenty-nine (34 percent) of the colonized patients died; four were female patients with fulminant bacteremia with P cepacia prior to death. Case-control studies showed that increasing severity of underlying cystic fibrosis, increasing age, having a sibling with cystic fibrosis who was colonized with P cepacia, and previous hospitalizations were associated with increased risk of colonization. In patients with mild cystic fibrosis, no differences in clinical outcome were seen during the period of study; however, patients colonized with P cepacia who had moderate or advanced cystic fibrosis were hospitalized longer and died sooner after colonization, compared with control subjects with similar severity of cystic fibrosis. The excess mortality associated with such colonization varied in magnitude and trend according to the patient's sex and severity of underlying cystic fibrosis, reflecting the combined influence of colonization with P cepacia, sex, and severity of cystic fibrosis on the mortality of the patients. The source and mode of transmission of P cepacia were not determined, but the data suggest a possible nosocomial source. The results of this investigation showed that colonization with P cepacia most often affected patients with moderate or advanced cystic fibrosis and was associated with an adverse clinical outcome in these patients.