On last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, a cystic fibrosis (CF) patient named Ricky is about to undergo lung transplantation when it is found that he is in a relationship with another CF patient. They are forbidden to continue dating each other
in order for him to be able to get the lung.
Why do CF patients have to keep away from one another? To understand that, first here’s a reminder about what cystic fibrosis is all about. As you can read in our article, CF is a genetic disease in which various organs in the body get damaged due to a genetic defect. An example of such an organ are the lungs. In CF, secretions in the airways are more thick, leading to their clogging. Germs multiply in the clogged airways, causing repeated infections.
Photo by Tanya Dawn
People with cystic fibrosis can pass on infections from one another easily, as both are more prone to infections than the general population. There are certain bacteria that are more common in CF patients than in other people. One of those is called Burkholderia cepacia, and another is pseudomonas aeruginosa. A person with CF can easily pass those on to another person with CF through close personal contact or by coughing near them. This is known as cross-infection.
The solution: Antibiotics. But, as more and more people with CF become infected with these bacteria, the bacteria may become resistant to antibiotic treatment.
Since people with CF are more likely to pick up strains from each other than from the environment, it is sadly recommended that people with CF do not come in close contact with each other. This includes no physical contact (like kissing, or perhaps even hand-shaking), no prolonged close contact (no playing together for young children, no long car rides together), no holiday parties for groups of CF families, etc.