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Vancomycin-Intermediate Staphylococcus aureus (VISA) and Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA)

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What are Vancomycin-Intermediate Staphylococcus aureus (VISA) and Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA)?
Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium commonly carried on the skin and within the nose of people.  The bacterium can cause infections such as boils or pneumonia.  Over time, the widespread use of antibiotics has led some S. aureus to become resistant to many antibiotics, which means the antibiotics no long work to kill the bacterium as they should.  Some S. aureus have become resistant to the antibiotic vancomycin.  If large doses of vancomycin might still be able to kill the S. aureus, it is called Vancomycin-intermediate S. aureus (VISA).  If no amount of vancomycin will kill the S. aureus, it is called Vancomycin-resistant S.aureus (VRSA).

What are the symptoms of VISA/VRSA?
VISA or VRSA can cause skin infections, abscesses, pneumonia, and infection of the heart valves or bones.

Who is likely to get VISA/VRSA?
VISA/VRSA is extremely rare.  To date only a few cases have been reported in the US.  People with the following conditions are more likely to get VISA/VRSA:

  • Underlying health conditions (such as diabetes or kidney disease)
  • Previous infections with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Recent hospitalizations
  • Use of catheters (such as intravenous [IV] lines)
  • Recent use of vancomycin or other antibiotics

Can VISA/VRSA be spread from person-to-person?
Yes, VISA/VRSA can be spread from person-to-person.  If a person touches a patient with VISA/VRSA, or touches a bandage or other material contaminated with the VISA/VRSA, he may get the bacterium on his hands.  He can then spread it from his hands to another part of his body, or to another person if he touches that person.  Washing the hands with soap and water is the best way to remove the VISA/VRSA from the hands so it cannot spread to others.

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?
In most situations, exposure to VISA/VRSA does not lead to illness. The person might carry the VISA or VRSA on his skin or in his nose, but not get sick at all, or might get sick from the VISA/VRSA days, weeks, or months later.

Does past infection with VISA/VRSA make a person immune?

What is the treatment for VISA/VRSA?
Several drugs that are effective in treating infections with VISA/VRSA have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Please consult with your physician if treatment is needed.

What can be done to prevent the spread of VISA/VRSA?
Use of good infection control practices in hospitals (such as wearing gloves when caring for patients with VISA/VRSA, and frequent handwashing by healthcare workers) can limit the spread of VISA/VRSA. The patient should also wash his hands frequently and should follow any other instructions given to him by his care providers. Keeping hands clean by washing thoroughly and frequently with soap and water is an effective way to prevent VISA/VRSA.

What should I do if a family member or close friend has VISA or VRSA?
Spread of VISA/VRSA can occur when someone has close physical contact with an infected person or with  contaminated material, such as bandages. Therefore, persons having close physical contact with infected patients while they are outside of the healthcare setting should: (1) keep their hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water, and (2) avoid contact with the person’s wounds or material (such as a bandage) that has touched the wound.   If you visit a friend or family member who is infected with VISA or VRSA while the person is hospitalized, follow the hospital’s recommended precautions. 

Is there a vaccine against VISA/VRSA?

Where can I obtain more information about VISA/VRSA?
Additional information is available at

Last Updated: 07-30-2011

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