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What Is the Difference Between MRSA and VRE?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 March 2014
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MRSA and VRE (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin resistant enterococcus/enterococci) are two types of bacteria that live in different parts of the body and are resistant to certain antibiotics. This resistance makes infection with either germ challenging to treat and poses special risk for those people who are ill. Infections are most often spread in hospitals, though there are community forms of MRSA, too. The principal differences between these two bacteria are that they are separate bacteria and are resistant to diverse types of antibiotics.

Staphylococcus and enterococcus aren’t always MRSA or VRE. These types of bacteria are specialized and have evolved resistance to methicillin or vancomycin, respectively. Regular forms of staphylococcus and enterococcus might still be effectively treated with these antibiotics, though other antibiotics could be preferred to avoid encouraging staph or enterococci germs to evolve this resistance. It’s worth observing that all people tend to carry around a certain amount of staph or enterococci and sometimes the types people carry are MRSA and VRE. This doesn’t mean the person is infected or will ever be infected, but only that they’re colonized or maintain a bacteria colony of these specialized germs.

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When people have MRSA, whether they are merely colonized or infected, the bacteria lives principally in the nose and sometimes on the skin. VRE most often lives in the intestines or the female genitals. If either bacteria gets on the hands or skin, it can pass from hand to hand, other skin contact, and from there it may enter the respiratory tract, other body orifices, or open wounds.

VRE infections are passed from skin to skin with slightly less readiness than MRSA; more common infection results from fluid to skin contact. This makes MRSA potentially more dangerous and easier to transmit. Especially in the hospital setting where people are ill and more vulnerable to infection, MRSA poses the greater risk. On the other hand, VRE infections are being reported in increasing numbers in hospital and health care facilities.

The good news is there are antibiotics that can kill MRSA and VRE, but the infections need to be identified early and the right drugs selected, for the most favorable outcome. Additionally, both these bacteria can be killed by simple cleaning protocols. Handwashing alone can significantly lower the spread of both diseases, and keeping hospital or other medical facilities and equipment clean is vital. Failure to observe these protocols can cause either germ to spread, which poses exceptional risk to the medically vulnerable.

One concern shared about MRSA and VRE, alike, is that they might develop resistance to other antibiotics. If these supergerms continue to fight new antibiotics that are used to treat them, it’s possible they’d ultimately become incurable. This knowledge has led to changes in the way antibiotics are used, with most doctors now more hesitant to employ them unless they’re certain they’re treating a bacterial infection. Less frequent use may lead to fewer opportunities for bacteria like MRSA and VRE to create new or additional antibiotic resistance.

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