Enterococcus faecalis is a type of anaerobic bacterium known as cocci, which can occur singularly, in pairs, or in small chains. It is Gram-positive in biochemical structure, a classification determined by staining the bacterium and then exposing it to a natural colour-removing chemical (Gram-positive bacteria can retain the stain). Enterococcus faecalis has gained notoriety for being one of the primary causes of nosocomial infections (hospital-acquired infections), which are characterised by fever and confusion. The most common types are urinary tract infections, which can be accompanied by terrible symptoms such as painful urination and blood in the urine.
Enterococcus faecalis normally lives in the gastrointestinal tracts of humans. However, trauma--which is often caused by the insertion and removal of catheters-- can cause the bacterium to enter the blood stream resulting in infection. While enterococcus faecalis is often found on food, there has yet to be a correlation proven between the bacterium and food poisoning. Enterococcus faecalis cannot be communicated person to person.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, enterococcus faecalis is the third most common organism responsible for nosocomial infections and accounts for 10 per cent of nosocomial infections worldwide. The first sign of a nosocomial infection is often fever. Other symptoms may include low blood pressure, reduced urination, a high white blood cell count, rapid breathing, and confusion. An infection from a specific wound or catheter-entry location may swell, turn red and be tender to the touch.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are the most commonly acquired nosocomial infections. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 16 per cent of UTIs are caused by enterococcus faecalis. Symptoms include fever, cloudy urine, strong urine odour, pain or tenderness above the pubic bone, burning sensation accompanying urination, blood in the urine, irritability, lack of appetite, loss of urinary control, greater frequency of urination, nausea and vomiting.
Enterococcus faecalis is an extremely durable bacterium. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, it can survive for extended periods of time on various environmental surfaces, including 90 days on soiled linen, 77 days on dirt, 180 days on cheese, and for several years in a culture of negative 70 degrees Celsius.
In addition to being resilient, enterococcus faecalis is extremely resistant. The bacterium is able to resist most antibiotics because of the fluidity of its genetic composition. It has the unique ability to exchange DNA in order to enhance both its infectious potency and its resistance to antibiotics.
Infections caused enterococcus faecalis can be treated with ampicillin or penicillin, but only if combined with aminoglycoside.