Effect of antibiotic therapy on the density of vancomycin-resistant enterococci in the stool of colonized patients

N Engl J Med. 2000 Dec 28;343(26):1925-32. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200012283432604.


Background: Colonization and infection with vancomycin-resistant enterococci have been associated with exposure to antibiotics that are active against anaerobes. In mice that have intestinal colonization with vancomycin-resistant enterococci, these agents promote high-density colonization, whereas antibiotics with minimal antianaerobic activity do not.

Methods: We conducted a seven-month prospective study of 51 patients who were colonized with vancomycin-resistant enterococci, as evidenced by the presence of the bacteria in stool. We examined the density of vancomycin-resistant enterococci in stool during and after therapy with antibiotic regimens and compared the effect on this density of antianaerobic agents and agents with minimal antianaerobic activity. In a subgroup of 10 patients, cultures of environmental specimens (e.g., from bedding and clothing) were obtained.

Results: During treatment with 40 of 42 antianaerobic-antibiotic regimens (95 percent), high-density colonization with vancomycin-resistant enterococci was maintained (mean [+/-SD] number of organisms, 7.8+/-1.5 log per gram of stool). The density of colonization decreased after these regimens were discontinued. Among patients who had not received antianaerobic antibiotics for at least one week, 10 of 13 patients who began such regimens had an increase in the number of organisms of more than 1.0 log per gram (mean increase, 2.2 log per gram), whereas among 10 patients who began regimens of antibiotics with minimal antianaerobic activity, there was a mean decrease in the number of enterococci of 0.6 log per gram (P=0.006 for the difference between groups). When the density of vancomycin-resistant enterococci in stool was at least 4 log per gram, 10 of 12 sets of cultures of environmental specimens had at least one positive sample, as compared with 1 of 9 sets from patients with a mean number of organisms in stool of less than 4 log per gram (P=0.002).

Conclusions: For patients with vancomycin-resistant enterococci in stool, treatment with antianaerobic antibiotics promotes high-density colonization. Limiting the use of such agents in these patients may help decrease the spread of vancomycin-resistant enterococci.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / drug effects
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Enterococcus / classification
  • Enterococcus / drug effects*
  • Enterococcus / isolation & purification
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Vancomycin Resistance*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents