How Is Enterococcus Faecalis Transmitted?

A close-up of an IV set-up. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Identification and Habitat

Enterococcus faecalis is a strain of bacteria that is known as a commensal organism in the intestines. This means that it is normally found in the intestine, particularly the large intestine, of most human beings. Normally it is not pathogenic, which means that this bacteria, when contained within the intestines, does not typically cause any sort of disease.

It is able to survive the high concentrations of bile within the intestines and may actually play a role in digestion as it breaks down complex carbohydrates too. Because this is an organism that typically is found in the human body, it has also over time become resistant to many common antibiotics.

Intestinal Infections

Although Enterococcus faecalis is typically harmless, this is only true when it is living in its intestinal niche. However, because of its resistance to antibiotics, it can sometimes overgrow the intestines after a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics, leading to intestinal problems. In addition, it can cause a serious infection if the intestines become perforated and it is able to escape into the abdominal cavity, where it can spread to other organs as well as cause a massive infection. Finally, in the event that it spreads into the bloodstream, it may cause bacterial sepsis and can spread to the brain or the heart.

Secondary Infections

Enterococcus faecalis can also enter the body through wounds and by infecting catheters and other surgical implements. The most common way that it is able to enter these sites is due to improper hygiene; because it lives in the intestines, Enterococcus faecalis can be found in fecal matter. As a result it can infect the skin and gain access to sites of insertion of catheters or IVs, or "ports" for dialysis. As a result, it is important that patients with an IV, a catheter or a dialysis port keep the area clean and wash their hands thoroughly after using the restroom. Medical professionals must also make every effort to keep their hands clean when working with such patients to avoid an Enterococcus infection.

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