Enterococcus is a germ (bacterium). It normally lives in the intestines and in the female genital tract.
Most of the time, it does not cause problems. But enterococcus can cause an infection if it gets into the urinary tract, bloodstream, or skin wounds.
Vancomycin is the antibiotic that is often used to treat these infections. Antibiotics are medicines that are used to kill bacteria.
Enterococcus germs that vancomycin does not kill are called vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). VRE can be hard to treat because there are fewer antibiotics that can fight the bacteria. Most VRE infections occur in hospitals.
Who is most at risk for VRE?
VRE infections are more common in patients who:
Are in the hospital, especially if they are taking antibiotics for a long time
Have long-term illnesses or weak immune systems
Have been treated before with vancomycin, or other antibiotics for a long time
Have been in intensive care units (ICUs)
Have been in cancer or transplant units
Have had major surgery
Have catheters to drain urine or intravenous (IV) catheters that stay in for a long time
Preventing the spread of VRE in the hospital
VRE can get onto the hands by touching a person who has VRE or by touching a surface that is contaminated with VRE. The bacteria then spread from one person to another by touch.
The best way to prevent the spread of VRE is for everyone to keep their hands clean.
Hospital staff and health care providers must wash with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after caring for every patient.
Patients should wash their hands if they move around the room or the hospital.
Urinary catheters or IV tubing are changed on a regular basis to minimize the risk of VRE infections.
Patients infected with VRE may be placed in a single room. This prevents the spread of germs among hospital staff, other patients, and visitors. Staff and health care providers may need to:
Use proper garments, such as gowns and gloves when entering an infected patient's room
Wear a mask when there is a chance of splashing bodily fluids
Treating VRE infections
Often, other antibiotics besides vancomycin can be used to treat most VRE infections. Lab tests will tell which antibiotics will kill the germ.
Patients with the enterococcus germ who do not have symptoms of an infection do not need treatment.
Arias CA, Murray BE. Enterococcus species, Streptococcus bovis group, and Leuconostoc species. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 201.
Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.