Enterococcus is the genus name of a group of bacteria that contains about 20 different species that have been implicated in human disease at some point. However, the overwhelming majority of such infections result from Enterococcus faecalis (E. faecalis) with most all of the remaining infections being accounted for by Enterococcus faecium (E. faecium). The other Enterococcus species (Enterococcus sp) are rarely implicated in human disease and there are several other Enterococcus sp that are only found in the environment. All of these bacteria are quite hardy and can live on environmental surfaces for extended periods.
Enterococcus sp are widespread throughout the environment. They are found in soil, water, and other animals including mammals, birds, and even insects. Under normal circumstances, Enterococcus sp are a normal and harmless inhabitant of the human intestinal tract. In this environment, they are quite numerous. When Enterococcus sp are behaving as “normal flora” they can be important contributors to our overall health. Such bacteria may assist in essential bodily functions such as digestion and the elimination of waste material. And, if they are already occupying “human real estate” it makes it more difficult for harmful organisms to get a foothold and nutrients may be scarce because the normal organisms are already using them.
Enterococcus sp are very vulnerable to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. These medications, when misused, can create much larger problems that those they originally solved. Be sure to use antibiotics properly and completely as directed by a physician or pharmacist, even if you feel better quickly. Talk to you doctor or pharmacist to be sure you understand what the medication is for, how to use it, and verify that you actually need it. It is important to be certain that the cause of your illness is actually bacterial, not viral, as antibiotics are useless against viral infections. Perhaps needless to say, you should never purchase any drug over the Internet that is not prescribed to you and which is then filled by a known and trusted pharmacy professional.
As harmless as Enterococcus sp generally are when limited to the intestinal tract, they can be very serious pathogens, causing significant and even fatal infections. Enterococcus sp now rank as the second most common cause of urinary tract and wound infections, and third most common cause of blood-borne systemic sepsis infections among infections acquired in the healthcare-setting, including long-term care facilities. These types of infections are known as nosocomial, meaning they were acquired in the hospital or related facility. Such infections are most common in people who have been institutionalized for a long period of time, who have indwelling devices such as blood or urinary catheters, and who are debilitated by other illnesses and/or advanced age.