VRE Infection

Closeup of man washing hands in sink.

Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) are germs that are resistant to certain germ-fighting medicines (antibiotics). They are especially resistant to the antibiotic vancomycin. Normally, VRE does not cause infections in healthy people. But in certain situations, VRE can spread and cause infection. VRE can cause infection anywhere in the body.

What does this mean for you?

VRE germs travel on dirty hands, and then to countertops and other surfaces. If you’re in the hospital or other facility, your healthcare team is working hard to prevent germs from spreading. But they need your help. Tell your family members and visitors to wash their hands before they have contact with you and before they leave your room.

Who’s at risk?

People who are healthy typically don’t get VRE infection, even if they carry the germ in their bodies. But people recovering from surgery, those with illnesses, the very young, and the elderly are most at risk of VRE infection. Others at risk are those who have:

  • The VRE germ in their systems and become ill with something else

  • Used antibiotics for a long period

  • Been receiving care at a healthcare facility

  • A weakened immune system

How healthcare staff fight infection

To keep infections from spreading, facility staff clean their hands before and after treating people. They may also wear protective gloves and gowns if needed. Staff also take the following precautions:

  • Place people with VRE in private rooms when possible, or in rooms with other people who have VRE.

  • Avoid overuse of antibiotics. Too much use can cause germs to resist some antibiotics.

  • Clean medical equipment and rooms with germ-killing cleaners.

  • Teach patients and visitors the best ways to prevent infection.

What you can do as a patient

You can help stop germs from spreading, too. Cleaning your hands often is the best way to kill germs. VRE germs can be found in stool and urine in otherwise healthy people without causing any symptoms. The germs can sometime enter the blood and make a person very ill. Even small amounts that can’t be seen can cause infection. These germs can also live on common surfaces, such as doorknobs. So wash your hands often, especially:

  • After using the bathroom

  • After touching a bandage

  • Before eating

Also, take antibiotics exactly as directed. This helps keep germs from growing resistant to the medicine.

Important: hand cleaning

Use warm water and plenty of soap.

  • Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds. Sing the Alphabet Song or the Happy Birthday song. Be sure to wash palms, backs of hands, and in between fingers.

  • Rinse hands, letting water run down your fingers.

  • Dry hands well. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.

  • When using alcohol-based hand cleaners, rub hands until they are dry. Be sure the hand cleaner you use is made of at least 60% alcohol.

For family and friends

Family and friends must also clean their hands often while visiting someone at a healthcare facility. This means washing hands with soap and warm water before entering and after leaving a patient’s room. Hands must also be washed after touching body fluids or bandages. Visitors may be asked to put on gowns and gloves as well. They should follow these instructions.

Take precautions at home

VRE infection can spread at home, too. So be sure to take special precautions while caring for someone. Follow the healthcare provider’s instructions carefully. To help keep germs from spreading:

Change the person’s bedding once a week. Change it more often if it’s soiled with stool or body fluids. Wash and dry it alone in a washer and dryer. Use hot water with detergent and liquid bleach. Wear disposable gloves when handling soiled laundry.

Thoroughly clean surfaces, such as tabletops and sinks. Keep bathrooms, toilets, and bedside commodes clean. A mixture of 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 quart of water prepared daily works great for this.

Don’t let the person prepare food until the healthcare provider says it’s OK.

Note to caregivers at home

Wear disposable gloves when handling the person’s soiled laundry. Wash your hands after removing gloves. Never use alcohol-based hand cleaners if hands look dirty. Use soap and water instead. Always wash hands after contact with the person.

When to call the healthcare provider

VRE infection can return or spread to others. Call the healthcare provider if you or those you have contact with have any symptoms of VRE infection. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Belly (abdominal) pain and cramping

  • Pain with urination

  • Wound infection