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Clin Microbiol Rev. Jan 1990; 3(1): 46–65.
PMCID: PMC358140

The life and times of the Enterococcus.

Abstract

Enterococci are important human pathogens that are increasingly resistant to antimicrobial agents. These organisms were previously considered part of the genus Streptococcus but have recently been reclassified into their own genus, called Enterococcus. To date, 12 species pathogenic for humans have been described, including the most common human isolates, Enterococcus faecalis and E. faecium. Enterococci cause between 5 and 15% of cases of endocarditis, which is best treated by the combination of a cell wall-active agent (such as penicillin or vancomycin, neither of which alone is usually bactericidal) and an aminoglycoside to which the organism is not highly resistant; this characteristically results in a synergistic bactericidal effect. High-level resistance (MIC, greater than or equal to 2,000 micrograms/ml) to the aminoglycoside eliminates the expected bactericidal effect, and such resistance has now been described for all aminoglycosides. Enterococci can also cause urinary tract infections; intraabdominal, pelvic, and wound infections; superinfections (particularly in patients receiving expanded-spectrum cephalosporins); and bacteremias (often together with other organisms). They are now the third most common organism seen in nosocomial infections. For most of these infections, single-drug therapy, most often with penicillin, ampicillin, or vancomycin, is adequate. Enterococci have a large number of both inherent and acquired resistance traits, including resistance to cephalosporins, clindamycin, tetracycline, and penicillinase-resistant penicillins such as oxacillin, among others. The most recent resistance traits reported are penicillinase resistance (apparently acquired from staphylococci) and vancomycin resistance, both of which can be transferred to other enterococci. It appears likely that we will soon be faced with increasing numbers of enterococci for which there is no adequate therapy.

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