Recent studies suggest that inflammation plays a role in the pathogenesis of lung disease in cystic fibrosis (CF). The goal of the present study was to quantitatively compare bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) inflammation and its relation to bacterial infection, between children with CF and children with other chronic respiratory problems. Differential cell counts, immunoreactive interleukin 8 (IL-8), and quantitative bacterial cultures were done in BALF from 54 CF (median age 1.8 yr) and 55 control patients (median age 1.0 yr) who underwent bronchoscopy for clinical indications. Among infected CF patients, those with Pseudomonas aeruginosa did not have more inflammation than those without P. aeruginosa. The ratio of neutrophils or of IL-8 to bacteria in BALF was significantly greater for CF patients compared with control subjects, regardless of pathogen. Calculation of linear regression for either neutrophils or IL-8, as a function of bacterial quantity, yielded positive slopes for both CF and control patients, but with significant elevations for CF. We conclude that the inflammatory response to bacterial infection is increased or prolonged in CF compared with control patients, and that this increase is not necessarily due to pathogens specific for CF (e.g., P. aeruginosa). These data may provide further rationale for anti-inflammatory therapy early in CF.