Division of Epidemiology
275 East Main Street
Frankfort, KY 40621
502-564-3418 or 3261
What is VRE?
VRE stands for vancomycin-resistant enterococcus. Vancomycin is an antibiotic used to treat infections. Enterococcus is a bacterium normally found in the digestive tract and, in females, in the vagina. Sometimes this germ is able to resist the antibiotic vancomycin. This is called VRE.
How VRE Is Spread?
It can be spread from one person to another, usually by hands contaminated with feces. However, it can also be present in urine, infected wounds, other body fluids, or wherever it can be carried by the bloodstream. It can also rarely be spread by contact with contaminated surfaces.
Who is at risk?
People with weak immune systems or those who have had many antibiotics are most likely to get VRE. It can also occur in people who have been in the hospital for a long time.
The Symptoms Of VRE
Serious infections caused by VRE often appear as infections of the blood stream, surgical wounds, urinary tract and bowel. However, some people can carry the germ and not have any symptoms. The symptom that usually accompanies all these infections is fever. Pus-draining wounds are often reddened and tender. Those with urinary tract infections often feel pain or burning upon urination and may experience frequent urination. Inflammation of the intestines and colon due to antibiotic use can cause diarrhea.
How VRE Is Diagnosed
Persons with signs and symptoms suspected of being caused by VRE can have the illness confirmed by a laboratory test called a culture. Germs in specimens obtained from blood, wound drainage, urine or feces of an ill person can grow in a culture enabling the microbiologist to identify it.
The Treatment For VRE
Some VRE can be treated with antibiotics if the person is infected. Often, if the person has the germ but does not show signs and symptoms of infection, they are not treated with drugs. People sometimes get rid of VRE on their own as their bodies get healthier and they are taken off antibiotics. Most of the time this takes a few months, but VRE can stay with a person longer.
How VRE Can Be Prevented
VRE is a very hardy germ. It can survive on hard surfaces for 5-7 days and on hands for hours. It is easy to kill with the proper use of disinfectants and good hand washing.
These steps should be taken to keep from spreading the germ:
- Hand washing with an antiseptic soap is the most effective measure to help stop the spread of this germ. People with VRE should wash their hands thoroughly before preparing food, after using the toilet and before eating. Those who have contact with a person who has VRE, or with any items that that the person has touched, should wash their hands. People who must handle the urine or stool of a person who has VRE should wear rubber or vinyl gloves. Hands should be washed before gloving and after taking the gloves off. Each time hand washing is performed it should be done for at least 10 seconds with soap and running water.
- People who have VRE should not share eating utensils or have others take bites of their food. If a dishwasher is not available, eating utensils should be washed in hot, soapy water.
- Furniture, floors and equipment must be kept clean with the use of a disinfectant. A solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water, made up weekly, and stored in a container protected from light, is an adequate disinfectant; commercial disinfectants may also be used. VRE is easy to kill on surfaces as long as it is in contact with the disinfectant long enough. Wetting the surface well and allowing it to air dry is usually enough time.
- If possible, a person with VRE should have his/her own bathroom; if this is not possible, clean the sink and toilet if obviously soiled.
- All disposable wastes, like bandages and dressings, can be put into a plastic bag, tied securely, then put into the regular trash.
- The clothes of a person with VRE can be washed with the family’s clothing. However, items heavily soiled with body fluids should be washed separately in detergent and bleach.
Guidelines for the Prevention & Management of Multi-drug Resistant Organisms