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What is Vancomycin Resistance Enterococci (VRE)?

Vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) are germs that can live in the gastrointestinal tract (bowels) of humans. Many people carry VRE and have no symptoms, sometimes referred to as being colonized. Most VRE infections occur in the hospital setting. Vancomycin is an antibiotic used to treat infections. Some enterococci have become resistant to this antibiotic and as a result are called vancomycin resistant enterococci.

What are the symptoms?

If someone has an infection from VRE the symptoms vary depending on where the infection is. Most individuals that have VRE are colonized and the germ does not cause them any harm.

How is VRE spread?

VRE can be spread on the hands of the health care provider or by direct contact with a person that has the germ. VRE can also spread by a person touching surfaces contaminated by the germ. VRE can live on surfaces such as toilet seats, handles and furniture. VRE is NOT spread by coughing or sneezing.

Who is at risk of getting VRE?

Healthy people are not likely to become ill with this germ. Anyone that has a compromised immune system can get a VRE infection.

People that are most at risk are:

  • Critically ill patients that are in intensive care units in hospitals.
  • People that have other health concerns such as cancer.
  • People that have had major surgery.
  • People that have urinary catheters or other indwelling medical devices.
  • People that are taking antibiotics for other infections.
  • People that have had vancomycin in the past.
  • Anyone that is exposed to the germ while in hospital.

What is the treatment for VRE?

Healthy people can have VRE and it does not cause them any harm. Some antibiotics, excluding vancomycin, used in combination can be used to treat VRE. Your doctor will determine if treatment is needed based on laboratory testing.

How can I prevent the spread of VRE?

In the hospital:
  • Ask your health care provider to wash their hands before caring for you.
  • Let your health care provider know you have VRE so that precautions can be followed.
  • Sometimes a health care provider may need to wear gown and gloves to care for you.
At home:
  • All people living in the house should clean their hands often and well, especially after using the bathroom.
  • Do not share razors or other personal items.
  • Wash and dry clothes, linens and other household laundry using the warmest temperature recommended on the labels.
  • Cleaning personal items and disinfecting of home environments reduce VRE spread.
  • VRE live in intestines of people, toilets can be contaminated with bacteria and should be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly and frequently.
  • If there is a chance that you may come in contact with body fluids, wear gloves and clean your hands after taking the gloves off.

Health Care Providers

VRE is not a reportable infection to the Health Unit. 

If you are dealing with VRE in an institution, please refer to Annex A: Screening, Testing, and Surveillance for Antibiotic-Resistant Organisms (AROs) In All Health Care Settings from the Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committee (PIDAC)

If you would like to consult our Infection Control Nurse, you may call the Health Unit at 519-258-2146 ext. 1422.