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Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE)

​​Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE) 

Enterococci are bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels) of about 19 out of every 20 healthy people. They are also found in the vagina, the mouth and the upper respiratory tract (throat) and on skin around the anal area. Human feces (stools) have the highest levels of these bacteria. Enterococci can get into open wounds and skin ulcers, where they can cause an infection. Less often, they can cause more serious infections of the blood or other body tissues.

Facts & Figures

Information for Health Professionals

The following information has been derived from the HealthLink produced by the Ministry of Health.

What are Enterococci? 
Enterococci are bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels) of about 19 out of every 20 healthy people. They are also found in the vagina, the mouth and the upper respiratory tract (throat) and on skin around the anal area. Human feces (stools) have the highest levels of these bacteria. Enterococci can get into open wounds and skin ulcers, where they can cause an infection. Less often, they can cause more serious infections of the blood or other body tissues. 

What is Vancomycin? 
Vancomycin (VAN co MY sin) is an antibiotic that is used to treat enterococcal infections. 

What are Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE)? 
Enterococci are naturally resistant to many antibiotics, and they can become resistant to other antibiotics. Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci are enterococci that have become resistant to vancomycin. VRE are not easier to catch and does not cause worse infections than other enterococci.

 

The most common way VRE spreads from person to person is by direct contact with an infected person, usually with the hands. A much less common way it can spread is by direct contact with surfaces like railings, faucets or handles that may have been contaminated by an infected person.

Healthy people may carry VRE for weeks, or even years, and may become free of the bacteria without treatment. However, if you have had a serious VRE infection, this infection can come back again, particularly if you are treated with vancomycin or other antibiotics in the future.

Healthy people who carry VRE in their body do not need treatment. Serious VRE infections, while they are difficult to manage, may still be treated with high doses of vancomycin-like antibiotics. Some new antibiotics may also be effective. 

If VRE is found in your feces or on your skin, you should talk with your family doctor. If you feel healthy, you will not need any treatment. You do not pose a health risk to your family, co-workers, or to the general public, and you should continue with your normal activities. If you do have symptoms associated with VRE, your doctor will give you the treatment you need. 

If you are carrying VRE, it is important for you to wash your hands regularly. Using an antibacterial hand soap or an alcohol hand rub may help stop you from spreading VRE when touching surfaces with your hands. 

Please note: If you are going into hospital, it is very important for you to let hospital admitting staff know that you have VRE.

Who’s at Risk? 
If you are healthy, and living in the community, your chances of becoming infected with VRE are low, even if you have been in contact with someone with VRE (for example at work). You may be more at risk if you have been treated with frequent doses of vancomycin before, or if you stayed for a long time in a hospital where previous VRE cases have been often reported. Patients whose immune systems are suppressed are also at greater risk of getting sick from VRE.

What is the risk of this infection in BC? 
At present in Canada, VRE is very uncommon. Most persons with VRE are identified by routine testing of skin and anal swabs done before or during a stay in hospital. In British Columbia, there have been scattered reports of VRE infections from across the province, with several clusters of VRE cases reported from a few hospitals.

There is no vaccine to protect you from VRE. The most important thing you can do is to wash your hands before eating, drinking, smoking or applying personal care products, and after using the toilet. 

Health care workers should also wash their hands between each contact with a patient. Scrub your hands well for about 10 seconds using warm water and regular soap, and use a disposable paper towel. Routine cleaning of surfaces like railings, faucets and handles, with regular soap and water can also help reduce spread of these and other micro-organisms.


Last Updated: March 15, 2012

SOURCE: Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE) ( )
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