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VRE infection is caused by germs that live in the intestines and on the skin. These germs are called vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). This is because they resist certain antibiotics (germ-fighting medications), especially vancomycin. Normally VRE do not cause problems. But sometimes they spread and cause infection. VRE can cause infection anywhere in the body.
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.
People who are healthy typically do not 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.
To keep infections from spreading, facility staff clean their hands before and after treating patients. They may also wear protective gloves and gowns if needed. Staff also take the following precautions:
Place patients with VRE in private rooms when possible, or in rooms with other patients 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.
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 feces, urine, and blood. 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.
Also, take antibiotics exactly as directed. This helps keep germs from growing resistant to the medicine.
Use warm water and plenty of soap.
Scrub hands for at least 15 seconds. Be sure to wash palms, backs of hands, and in between fingers.
Rinse hands, letting water run down the 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.
Family and friends must also clean their hands often while visiting patients at a healthcare facility. This means washing hands with soap and warm water before entering and upon leaving a patient’s room. Hands must also be washed after touching body fluids or bandages.
VRE infection can spread at home, too. So be sure to take special precautions while caring for the patient. Follow the healthcare provider’s instructions carefully. To help keep germs from spreading:
Change the patient’s bedding once a week, or more often if it’s soiled with feces 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 tablespoon of bleach to 1 quart of water prepared daily works great for this.
Do not allow the patient to prepare food until his or her healthcare provider says it’s okay.
Wear disposable gloves when handling the patient’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 patient.
VRE infection can return or spread to others. Call the doctor if you or those you have contact with have symptoms of VRE infection. Symptoms include:
Fever of 100.4°F or higher
Abdominal pain and cramping
Pain with urination