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About Us - Our Performance - Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) Prevention - Overview


What is VRE?

VRE is the short form for Vancomycin-resistant enterococci. Enterococci are common bacteria that are normally found in the bowel, the female genital tract and often found in the environment. Vancomycin is a powerful antibiotic used to treat serious infections. Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) are a type of bacteria which no longer responds to treatment with vancomyacin.


What causes VRE?

Healthy people are usually not at risk of becoming infected with Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). Risk factors for getting VRE include severity of underlying illness, presence of invasive devices, prior colonization with VRE, antibiotic use and length of hospital stay. Enterococci bacteria in the lower intestine, urine, blood, and/or skin, may cause an infection and resist Vancomycin antibiotic. Some people may carry the bacteria without having symptoms.


VRE can cause illnesses such as blood infections, urinary tract infections, or abscesses. This is uncommon however, and is usually only seen in those with:

  • recent hospitalization in healthcare facilities outside Canada,
  • critical illness in intensive care units,
  • severe underlying disease or weakened immune systems,
  • urinary catheters,
  • exposure to (or contact with) a patient/resident with VRE, or
  • antibiotic use, particularly vancomycin.

How does VRE spread?
The spread of VRE occurs through contact. VRE are found in feces (stool) and are transmitted from one person to another by direct contact (unwashed hands) or indirect contact (touching surfaces contaminated with the bacteria). You can get VRE when you touch your mouth or eat with contaminated hands; the bacteria are swallowed and then may live in your digestive tract.


VRE are hardy germs that can survive outside the body on surfaces such as toilet seats and door knobs from five days to several weeks, and on hands for several hours. A surface does not have to be visibly soiled to be contaminated. VRE bacteria are invisible to the naked eye.


The bacteria are relatively easy to kill with disinfectants and good hand hygiene. VRE are not spread through the air.


How can I tell if I have VRE?
If you have Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) it means the organism lives in your bowel without causing any illness.  Most people who have VRE will not become sick from it and your body will get rid of the organism on its own in time.


Your doctor will ask you to get a blood test from a laboratory to see if you have VRE bacteraemia. The test will confirm if VRE bacteria is present in the bloodstream.


People who have Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) may not have any signs of illness, but in some cases, VRE can cause a variety of infections depending on how it enters the body. It can cause infections of the urinary tract, bowels, blood stream or wounds.  Your doctor will determine what treatment to use based on the results of your examination.


How can I protect myself from VRE?
People who have Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) can potentially contaminate the environment with unwashed hands. Practicing good hygiene, especially after using the toilet, is very important.  Good handwashing is the single, most effective way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like VRE.


How is VRE treated?
People who have Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) do not require any special medical treatment. If you have VRE, your doctor will determine the best course of treatment for you. Often, more than one kind of antibiotic will be needed to kill the germ and it may take a long time before the infection goes away.


Information for Patients and Visitors


VRE Fact Sheet for Patients and Visitors


What happens when a hospital patient has VRE?
When a patient is diagnosed with a VRE infection, the patient is placed on contact precautions.  People coming into the room must wear isolation gowns and gloves and clean their hands upon leaving the room. This is to protect visitors, staff and other patients. Patients are placed in single rooms while they complete their treatment. 


Can patients with VRE have visitors?
Yes. Restrictions on activities or visitors at home or in the community are not necessary. If you are visiting a person with VRE in hospital or a long-term care home, you may be asked by staff to wear gloves and gown before having contact with the person or his/her environment. This will reduce the chance of your spreading the germ to others. It is very important to perform hand hygiene after visiting these facilities. Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer if hands are not visibly soiled.


Can patients with VRE visit other healthcare providers?
If you have VRE, when visiting healthcare providers in the community (doctor, nurse, physiotherapist), tell them about your VRE so they can take the appropriate precautions (e.g. handwashing and use of gloves).


More patient-specific information is available at and, and


If you have any questions about our hospital’s infection prevention and control program, please contact Mackenzie Health Infection Prevention and Control Department at

Mackenzie Health / 10 Trench St. Richmond Hill, On. L4C 4Z3 / Richmond Hill Line: 905-883-1212 or Vaughan Line: 905-832-4554 / TTY Service: 905-883-2123