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HealthInfo Canterbury

Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE)

Enterococci are generally harmless bacteria (germs) that live in the gut of most people. Vancomycin is an antibiotic that's used to treat very serious infections.

VRE is a type of enterococci bacteria that has become resistant to, and can't be treated with, vancomycin.

VRE can cause infections like urinary tract infections and wound infections. The resistance to vancomycin means that it can't be used to treat these infections.

You can become infected by VRE if you touch other people who have the infection or surfaces that are contaminated, then touch your mouth area without having washed your hands. VRE isn't spread through the air by coughing or sneezing.

VRE isn't usually a risk to healthy people.

How do I know if I have VRE?

Blood tests or tests on samples such as rectal swabs and wound swabs are used to identify VRE.

How is VRE treated?

VRE doesn’t always need to be treated. If you have the bacteria in your body but no symptoms of an infection, you don’t need treatment.

Most VRE infections can be treated with an antibiotic that isn't vancomycin. Blood tests and swab tests can determine which antibiotic will best treat your infection.

How can I avoid spreading VRE?

In hospital, you can potentially spread the bacteria to other patients who are at risk of infection because their body's defence mechanisms are weakened by illness, surgery, medications or medical procedures.

To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it's important to have good hand hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and before eating or drinking. Alcohol-based hand rubs are an excellent alternative to hand washing. They're available in all hospital wards and departments.

If you're in hospital, you'll be placed in isolation to reduce the risk of spreading VRE to other patients. This means you'll be in your own room and have your own toilet.

Hospital staff caring for you will wear gloves, and gowns or aprons to prevent them carrying the bacteria to other patients.

If you're in isolation, it's important that you don't visit patients in other parts of the ward or in other wards. You will also be asked not to go into communal areas on the ward.

Encourage everyone, including healthcare workers, to wash their hands after visiting you.

Healthy visitors, including pregnant women and young children, aren't at risk from VRE. But your visitors must wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand rub when they leave your room.

If your visitors are going to visit other people in the hospital, they should do that before coming to see you.

Your family can take your laundry home and wash it as usual.

VRE won't stop you going home from hospital. You'll be discharged as soon as your general condition allows.

The presence of VRE doesn't pose a risk to the health of your family and friends when you're at home or at work.

At home, maintain good personal hygiene and household cleaning. Good hand washing is very important. You can wash towels, clothes, bed sheets and other items as usual. You can also wash utensils and dishes as usual. You don't need to limit activities or visitors to your home.

Written by Infection Prevention and Control Service, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2018.

Sources

Page reference: 57598

Review key: HIVRE-57598