Eye on Superbugs Part 7: VRE

10.08.14  Washing hands

Written by: Selective Micro Technologies

In this week’s series “Eye on Superbugs”, we are presenting another known superbug that is highly resistant to antibiotics: VRE. This superbug fits under a similar category as CRE, MRSA, and C-diff. because they are all very prevalent in healthcare settings and all have built a resistance to antibiotics, which makes these superbugs all the more powerful disease spreading machines. 

VRE: What is it? 

Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci, or VRE, is another superbug known to be acquired in healthcare settings, but typically colonizes within people without making them sick. Like most superbugs, certain people are more susceptible to this infection than others, especially those receiving medical interventions. Vancomycin is a common antibiotic used to treat infections caused by enterococci bacteria. Unfortunately, evolution is making treatment of these kinds of infections more and more difficult, especially when antibiotics are prescribed with such high frequency.

Much like many of the other superbugs with antibiotic resistance found within healthcare settings, VRE is also passed from person to person by way of improper hygiene or use of equipment on multiple patients. It is important to always disinfect patient equipment prior to use on other patients. If a patient is known to have a VRE infection, it is important to follow the precaution procedure guidelines set by the facility. 

Prevention is Critical

The threat of a VRE infection and spread attendant thereto becomes a reality if there is overuse of vancomycin antibiotic. Typically, the enterococci bacteria that are found in the intestinal tract do not pose a threat to a healthy person. These normal bacteria, however, become adaptive and learn to evade the toxicity of antibiotics as their resistance builds as a measure of overuse of antibiotics. Symptoms of a VRE infection differ but can present as a bladder infection, diarrhea, wound infection, and fever.

It is important to find the precise cause of the infection, like a wound site or an indwelling catheter or IV, so certain interventions can be stopped and a proper treatment can be implemented. If left untreated, VRE can cause endocarditis, meningitis, sepsis, UTIs, and even death. The mortality rate of this infection is ranged at an astonishing 60-70%. Prevention is critical because while there is treatment available to get this infection under control, it can be difficult to suppress. The best scenario is to get the patient on their way to recovery with a new course of antibiotics, while also avoiding vancomycin use in the future.

Fast facts on VRE:

  1. Similar to superbug MRSA, colonization of enterococci without infection is typical in healthy people.
  2. Overuse of the antibiotic vancomycin is the culprit of severe and life-threatening infections, in most cases.
  3. Good hand hygiene is critical, along with proper disinfection of all non-disposable patient equipment. 
  4. Avoiding overuse and over-prescribing of any antibiotics in any one person to prevent their body’s and healthy bacteria from building resistance. 

**Click here and check out this fact sheet about Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE)