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Failure to Eradicate Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci in a University Hospital and the Cost of Barrier Precautions

  • Kwan Kew Lai (a1) (a2), Anita L. Kelley (a2), Zita S. Melvin (a2), Paul P. Belliveau (a3) and Sally A. Fontecchio (a2)...



To describe the effect of infection control interventions on the incidence of vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), the utility of pharyngeal cultures for surveillance for VRE colonization, and the cost of barrier precautions.


Evaluation of the occurrence of VRE infection or colonization, rates of vancomycin use, results of surveillance cultures before and after interventions, and the cost of increased barrier precautions.


University of Massachusetts Medical Center, a 347-bed tertiary-care teaching hospital with eight intensive-care units, one burn unit, and one bone marrow transplant unit.


Patients in the intensive-care units and staff who were involved with patients colonized or infected with VRE.


Infection control interventions included placement of patients with VRE in private rooms, strict contact isolation, cohorting of patient and nursing staff, prohibiting of equipment sharing, and monitoring of compliance with the vancomycin restriction policy, with hand washing, and of the adequacy of environmental cleaning. Both rectal and pharyngeal cultures were obtained from patients at the beginning of the outbreak, and the utility of pharyngeal cultures was evaluated. The cost of barrier precautions was estimated by comparing the cost of glove and gown use before and after the outbreak began.


The interventions decreased the number of new cases of VRE, but total eradication of VRE was not achieved. Compliance with the room-cleaning protocol was 91% (141/155 observations). Hand washing following interaction with patients who were not in isolation was 51%, vs 100% for patients in isolation. Overall, handwashing compliance was 71% (319/449): 56% (130/231) for physicians and 86% (187/218) for nurses (P<.0001). The mean number of doses of vancomycin dispensed per 1,000 patient days decreased from 145 to 114 per 1,000 patient days (P<.001). Compliance with vancomycin-use guidelines was 85%. Forty-six (77%) of 60 surveillance rectal swabs yielded enterococci, as compared to only 4 (11%) of 36 pharyngeal cultures (P<.0001). Expenses on glove and gowns alone increased by over $11,000 per year since the epidemic began.


Implementation of the various infection control measures did not eradicate VRE cases from the hospital. Rectal cultures were more useful than pharyngeal cultures for surveillance of VRE. Controlling VRE epidemics can be costly.


Corresponding author

Division of Infectious Disease and Immunology, Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, 55 Lake Ave N, Worcester, MA 01655


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Failure to Eradicate Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci in a University Hospital and the Cost of Barrier Precautions

  • Kwan Kew Lai (a1) (a2), Anita L. Kelley (a2), Zita S. Melvin (a2), Paul P. Belliveau (a3) and Sally A. Fontecchio (a2)...


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