BACKGROUND Burkholderia cepacia has been described as a cause of opportunist infections in patients with immune deficiency because of the high transmission rates. Actually the B. cepacia is subdivided in nine different genomic species that show morphological similarity, called genomovars. High mortality rates have been associated with infections caused by genomovars in susceptible patients; antibiotics are not efficient because of the high resistance level and genomic mutability. Little is known about the epidemiological traits of this bacterium; therefore, their isolation remains a relevant technical problem. AIMS The objective of this review is to describe Burkholderia cepacia as a bacterial complex with high pathogenicity and variability of habitats. MATERIALS AND METHODS A systematic search was realized using the international bibliographic databanks SCIELO, HIGHWIRE, PUBMED, SCIRUS and LILACS to provide a useful and practical review for the health workers that do not know this microorganism. CONCLUSIONS Today, B. cepacia complex is a very important problem for the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and cystic fibrosis patients. The immunodeficiency caused by these diseases is a positive factor for this microorganism to infect and kill these patients. Therefore, this opportunistic pathogen should be pointed out as a risk to these patients and hospitals all over the world must be prepared to detect and combat this bacterium.