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Learning About Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE)

What is VRE?

Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) is a type of bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics, including vancomycin.

These bacteria live in our intestines and on our skin. They usually don't cause problems. But sometimes they cause infection. This can occur anywhere in the body. Some common sites include the intestines, the urinary tract, and wounds.

For some people, especially those who are weak or ill, these infections can become serious.

VRE can spread from person to person. It is commonly spread from the hands of someone who has VRE. This could be anyone in a health care setting or in the community.

If you are healthy, your chances of getting VRE are very low.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a VRE infection depend on where the infection is:

  • If VRE is in a wound, that area of your skin may be red or tender.
  • If VRE is in the urinary tract, you may have back pain, a burning sensation when you urinate, or a need to urinate more often than usual.

You may also:

  • Have diarrhea.
  • Feel weak and sick.
  • Have a fever and chills.

How is VRE treated?

  • Most VRE infections are treated with antibiotics.
    • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
    • VRE infections may be hard to cure. Bacteria do not respond to many antibiotics.
    • You may need more than one antibiotic to stop the infection.
  • If you get a serious infection with VRE, you may have to stay in the hospital for treatment. While there, you may be kept apart from others to reduce the chances of spreading the bacteria.
  • You may have samples of your blood, urine, or stool sent to a lab. This checks to see if you still have VRE in your body.
  • If you don't have symptoms, your doctor may not give you antibiotics. This may help keep VRE from becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

How can you prevent VRE?

  • Practise good hygiene.
    • Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and clean, running water. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand-washing is the best way to avoid spreading germs.
    • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage. Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
    • Do not share personal items such as towels or razors.
    • Keep your home, work, and other spaces clean by using a disinfectant to wipe surfaces you touch a lot. These include countertops, doorknobs, and light switches.
  • Be smart about using antibiotics. Know that these medicines can help treat bacterial infections. They can't cure viral infections. Always ask your doctor if antibiotics are the best treatment. And don't pressure your doctor into prescribing them when he or she thinks they won't help you get better.
  • Remind your doctors and nurses to wash their hands before they touch you.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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