The spread of Burkholderia cepacia among cystic fibrosis (CF) patients in the UK prompted an investigation into whether an epidemic strain was responsible. A total of 366 B. cepacia isolates from 178 CF patients in 17 centres was examined by ribotyping and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Associations were also sought between antibiotic resistance and strain type. More than 50 ribotype patterns were found but one, termed ribotype 1, was identified from 68 patients in eight centres. One centre had a single patient with this type while, in others, most or all patients harboured this organism. Small clusters of apparent cross-colonisation within centres were also evident for some other ribotypes. PFGE confirmed that ribotype 1 isolates were genetically similar. Ribotype 1 isolates were not markedly more resistant to antimicrobial agents than were other isolates, and the MICs of individual antibiotics were no more tightly clustered for ribotype 1 isolates than for others. Most isolates were resistant to ciprofloxacin, amikacin, gentamicin, tobramycin, carbenicillin, cefuroxime, cefotaxime, imipenem, biapenem, chloramphenicol, tetracycline, trimethoprim and sulphamethoxazole, but > or = 77% were susceptible to ceftazidime, piperacillin, piperacillin/ tazobactam and meropenem. We conclude that numerous strains of B. cepacia colonise CF patients in the UK and Ireland but that one epidemic strain has spread in at least eight centres. Isolates of this strain appear homogenous in total genomic profile but very variable in antibiotic susceptibility.