To assess the risk of acquisition of Pseudomonas cepacia by person-to-person transmission at cystic fibrosis summer camps, we conducted in 1990 a study at three camps attended by patients with cystic fibrosis who had P. cepacia infection and patients without P. cepacia infection but who were considered susceptible to infection. We obtained sputum or throat cultures from campers on their arrival at, weekly during, at the end of, and 14 to 30 days after camp. We compared the incidence of sputum conversion of patients at camp with that of patients outside camp by culturing specimens from noncamper control subjects with cystic fibrosis who were known not to be infected < or = 2 weeks before and 4 to 6 weeks after camp. We also determined the risk factors for P. cepacia acquisition by determining the relative risk of acquisition between campers who were exposed versus campers who were not exposed to campers known to be infected or to potential environmental sources of P. cepacia at camp. The ribotype of P. cepacia isolates from campers with sputum conversion was compared with that of isolates from other campers and from an environmental source. The cumulative incidence of sputum conversion during the study period was 6.1% (11/181) among campers compared with no incidence (0/92) among noncampers (p = 0.02, Fisher Exact Test). The incidence of sputum conversion at camp varied according to the prevalence of campers with known infection (p < 0.001, chi-square test for trend). The rate of sputum conversion was higher in the camp with longer duration (relative risk = 12.0; 95% confidence interval = 2.7 to 53.5). Ribotyping showed that P. cepacia isolates from all 11 campers with sputum conversion were identical or similar (1 to 2 band difference) to isolates of other P. cepacia-infected campers including co-converters. These results suggest that P. cepacia can be acquired by patients with cystic fibrosis who are attending summer camp for such patients, possibly through person-to-person transmission, and that the risk increases with the prevalence of P. cepacia-infected campers and the duration of camp.