Vancomcyin-resistant enterococci (VRE) have emerged as nosocomial pathogens in the past 10 years, causing epidemiological controversy. In the USA, colonisation with VRE is endemic in many hospitals and increasingly causes infection, but colonisation is absent in healthy people. In Europe, outbreaks still happen sporadically, usually with few serious infections, but colonisation seems to be endemic in healthy people and farm animals. Vancomycin use has been much higher in the USA, where emergence of ampicillin-resistant enterococci preceded emergence of VRE, making them very susceptible to the selective effects of antibiotics. In Europe, avoparcin, a vancomycin-like glycopeptide, has been widely used in the agricultural industry, explaining the community reservoir in European animals. Avoparcin has not been used in the USA, which is consistent with the absence of colonisation in healthy people. From the European animal reservoir, VRE and resistance genes have spread to healthy human beings and hospitalised patients. However, certain genogroups of enterococci in both continents seem to be more capable of causing hospital outbreaks, perhaps because of the presence of a specific virulence factor, the variant esp gene. By contrast with the evidence of a direct link between European animal and human reservoirs, the origin of American resistance genes remains to be established. Considering the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and resistance genes, the emergence of VRE has emphasised the non-existence of boundaries between hospitals, between people and animals, between countries, and probably between continents.