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Patient education: Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (The Basics)

Patient education: Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (The Basics)

What are vancomycin-resistant enterococci? — Vancomycin-resistant enterococci ("VRE") are bacteria that can cause an infection that is hard to cure. Enterococci are a kind of bacteria. Vancomycin is an antibiotic used to treat infections caused by enterococci. But some enterococci have learned to outsmart the antibiotics that doctors normally use to kill them. Doctors call this "resistance."

People carry all sorts of germs inside their body and on their skin. The body usually controls these germs, so they do no harm. Enterococci are normally found in the intestines and the female sex organs. They are also found on surfaces in living spaces, especially bathrooms.

Some people have VRE inside their bodies but do not get an infection. This is called being "colonized." A person can be colonized without realizing it.

How do you catch VRE? — VRE are common in hospitals and nursing homes. In these places, VRE have been found on bed rails, telephones, and medical equipment.

VRE is spread through touch:

Often, it is spread by the hands of a person (usually a doctor, nurse, or caregiver) who has touched someone or something with VRE.

People can also catch VRE by touching a surface with VRE on it.

Poor handwashing makes it more likely that someone will spread VRE.

This kind of infection is not spread through coughing or sneezing.

How do I know if I have VRE? — If you need to stay in the hospital, your doctor or nurse might check to see if you are already "colonized" with VRE. This involves putting a swab in or around your rectum, then doing a test to look for the bacteria. They can also test a sample of your stool for VRE.

If you do have VRE in your body, your doctor or nurse can do things to help prevent spreading it to other people.

VRE can cause infections in the urinary tract (the organs that process urine), in the belly, or in the bloodstream. If your doctor suspects that you have a VRE infection, they will do tests. These might include:

Urine or blood tests to check for VRE

An imaging test, such as a CT scan, which takes pictures of the inside of your body

Can VRE infections be treated? — Yes. Your doctor can give you special antibiotics to treat your infection. The antibiotics can be given as pills or through a thin tube that goes into a vein, called an "IV."

If you get medicines to take at home, follow the directions exactly. Take all of the pills you are given, even if you feel better before you finish them. If you do not take them all, the bacteria could get resistance to the medicine you are taking.

If you are colonized with VRE but don't have an infection, you probably will not need antibiotics.

Is there any way to prevent VRE colonization and infection? — The best way to prevent the spread of VRE is for doctors and nurses to wash their hands often when caring for patients. If you are a patient in a hospital, make sure that your doctors and nurses wash their hands before they touch you. If there is no sink, they can use an alcohol-based hand gel instead.

If you are already colonized with VRE, your doctors and nurses will wear special hospital gowns and gloves when they are in your room. This is to prevent passing the VRE to other patients.

More on this topic

Patient education: Urinary tract infections in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Endocarditis (The Basics)
Patient education: Central line infections (The Basics)
Patient education: Multidrug-resistant organisms (The Basics)
Patient education: How to wash your hands (The Basics)

Patient education: Urinary tract infections in adolescents and adults (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Oct 01, 2023.
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