Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) are becoming a major concern in medical practice. Their increased prevalence and their ability to transfer vancomycin resistance to other bacteria (including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) have made them a subject of close scrutiny and intense investigation. Colonization is usually acquired by susceptible hosts in an environment with a high rate of patient colonization with VRE (eg, intensive care units, oncology units). Vancomycin-resistant enterococci can survive in the environment for prolonged periods (>1 week), can contaminate almost any surface, and can be passed from one patient to another by health care workers. Whether VRE colonization leads to infection depends on the health status of the patient. Whereas immunocompetent patients colonized with VRE are at low risk for infection, weakened hosts (patients with hematologic disorders, transplant recipients, or severely ill patients) have an increased likelihood of developing infection following colonization. Quinupristin-dalfopristin and linezolid are among the anti-infective agents that have recently become available to treat infection caused by VRE. Other antimicrobials are currently under development. Molecular techniques such as polymerase chain reaction and standard culture studies are being used to detect VRE colonization, infection, and outbreaks.
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