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What is the Difference Between MRSA and VRE?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Jul 09, 2014

I'm not much interested in having MRSA or VRE. Neither one is a picnic. I'd rather stay out of that arena altogether.

I do know that staph and MRSA infections are big concerns in hospitals. That's why they have hand sanitizer everywhere. I've heard many doctors say they wanted to discharge a patient before they got sick, meaning before they picked up a staph infection or MRSA.

My uncle was hospitalized for heart surgery and got a staph infection in a tiny wound in his leg. That stuff is insidious. The doctors thought it might be MRSA at first, but he did respond to the meds, and they released him to recuperate at home.

By Grivusangel — On Jul 08, 2014

Another tool in the antibiotic arsenal is a culture and sensitivity test. This is when the bacteria (like staph or strep) are tested to see which antibiotic is most effective at killing them. This allows doctors to use the best antibiotic for the job, and also use a narrow spectrum medication, since use of the narrow spectrum antibiotic helps reduce the numbers of resistant bacteria.

This test also helps doctors know whether they are fighting a viral infection or a bacterial infection. Antivirals will help a patient who is fighting a virus, whereas antibiotics don't do much good against viruses.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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