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Antibiotic-Resistant Organisms (ARO)

Learning About Antibiotic-Resistant Organisms (ARO) in the Hospital

What are ARO?

ARO are bacteria (germs) that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics. This means that some types of antibiotics can’t kill them. Examples of ARO are methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE).

MRSA: Staphylococcus aureus are germs that live on the skin and in the noses of many people. MRSA is a type of Staphylococcus or "staph" bacteria that some antibiotics can’t kill. MRSA is different from other types of staph because it can’t be treated with certain antibiotics, such as methicillin.

VRE: Enterococcus are germs that live in the small and large bowels. VRE are enterococcus bacteria antibiotics such as vancomycin can’t kill.

How are ARO spread?

ARO can live on hard surfaces (such as countertops and toilets) or medical equipment (such as bedrails) for days or even weeks.

ARO can spread on unclean hands and surfaces touched by a person who is carrying or infected with an ARO. To help stop ARO from spreading, clean your hands (also called hand hygiene) with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. Clean surfaces as well.

How harmful are ARO?

Colonization means that ARO live on people, but they don’t cause any health problems. For most people, colonization with an ARO isn’t dangerous and doesn’t make them sick because their immune system keeps it under control.

Infection is when ARO causes symptoms of infection such as pain and fever. Some people may be at risk of getting an ARO infection. As with any other type of infection, it can become serious (e.g., an infected wound or pneumonia).

How are ARO treated?

People who are colonized with an ARO, also called carriers, are not usually treated with antibiotics. Colonization may go away without any treatment.

People infected with an ARO often get antibiotics. It’s very important to finish taking the whole prescription of antibiotics, even if you’re feeling better.

What happens if I’m a patient in the hospital?

The hospital may take extra precautions to prevent ARO from spreading to other patients. If you’re on extra precautions, a sign on your door will describe the Contact Precautions that people need to follow before entering your room.

How can I stop ARO from spreading?

To stop ARO from spreading, do the following every time you leave your room:

  • Clean your hands (wash your hands with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub). You don’t have to wear gloves.
  • Wear a clean, fresh hospital robe (housecoat) over your pajamas or clothes.
  • Ask your healthcare provider to cover your wounds with a clean dressing, or to change your dressing if it’s dirty or falling off.
  • Clean or ask for help with cleaning places that get touched a lot on your wheelchair, walker, cane, or IV pole.

What can I do at home?

There are simple things you can do at home to stop ARO or any other infections from spreading:

  • Clean your hands regularly. This is the best way to stop germs from spreading.
  • Do not share personal items such as towels, clothing, bar soap, or razors.
  • Clean your home regularly, especially the kitchen and bathroom. Refer to Learning about Reducing Germs and Infection in the Home for tips to stop germs from spreading at home.
  • Wash clothing using regular laundry soap in the regular wash cycle.
  • Clean shared items (e.g., sports equipment or surfaces like counters) with a household disinfectant.
  • See a doctor if you have any signs of an infection such as pain or fever.
  • Cover wounds that are draining with a clean, dry dressing.
  • You may go to work as usual. If you work with or near food, always use safe food handling procedures.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have an ARO or have had an ARO in the past.

Is it safe for people to visit me?

Yes, it’s safe for family and friends to visit you.

Current as of: March 29, 2019

Author: Infection Prevention and Control, Alberta Health Services