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Antibiotic-resistant organisms (ARO): When you're in the hospital

Antibiotic-Resistant Organisms (ARO)

When you're in the hospital

What are AROs?

AROs are bacteria (germs) that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics. This means that some types of antibiotics can’t kill them.

  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus): Staphylococcus or “staph” bacteria are germs that can live on your skin and in your nose. MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that some antibiotics, such as methicillin, can’t kill.
  • VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococcus): Enterococcus bacteria are germs that live in the small and large bowels. VRE are enterococcus bacteria that antibiotics such as vancomycin can’t kill.

How are AROs spread?

AROs can spread on unclean hands and surfaces touched by a person who is carrying or infected with an ARO.

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

How harmful are AROs?

Colonization means that an ARO lives on you but doesn’t cause health problems. For most people, colonization with an ARO isn’t dangerous. It usually won’t make you sick because your immune system keeps it under control.

Infection is when an 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, like an infected wound or pneumonia.

How are AROs 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 if I have an ARO infection?

When you’re in the hospital and you have an ARO infection, your healthcare team may take extra precautions so it doesn’t spread 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 AROs from spreading in the hospital?

If you have an ARO infection, you can stop it from spreading by doing the following every time you leave your hospital room:

  • Clean your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizer). You don’t have to wear gloves.
  • Wear a clean, fresh hospital robe 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 to clean places that get touched a lot on your wheelchair, walker, cane, or IV pole.

If I have an ARO, is it safe for people to visit me in the hospital?

It’s safe for family and friends to visit you in the hospital.

How can I stop AROs and other germs from spreading?

There are simple things you can do to stop AROs and other germs from spreading:

  • Clean your hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. This is the best way to stop germs from spreading.
  • Don’t share personal items such as towels, clothing, bar soap, or razors.
  • Clean your home regularly, especially the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Wash clothing with regular laundry soap in the regular wash cycle.
  • Clean shared items (such as sports equipment and countertops) 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.
  • Always use safe food-handling procedures when you’re working with or near food.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have an ARO or have had one in the past.

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Related to ARO

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Current as of: April 13, 2021

Author: Infection Prevention and Control, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.