Enterococcus faecalis is a bacterium that inhabits the gastrointestinal tract of most mammals including humans. It is a Gram positive bacterium, meaning it stains dark blue or purple under Gram staining. It is also considered to be a commensal bacterium because it benefits from living within a host mammal, while generally not causing either benefit or harm to the host.
However, Enterococcus faecalis can be responsible for very serious, sometimes life threatening infections in humans, especially in hospitals and in individuals with low immune systems. In hospitals, strains of the bacteria have unusually high levels of antibiotic resistance, which causes them to be significantly more pathogenic. Infections caused by these bacteria are also very common after root canals. The rates of incidence are surprisingly high, estimated at 30 to 90% of cases. It is not surprising that most people’s interest in Enterococcus faecalis is how to get rid of it.
Several diseases that can be attributed to Enterococcus faecalis include bacteremia, meningitis, and urinary tract infections. Bacteremia is a general term for a condition in which bacteria is present in the blood stream. Because blood is intended to be sterile, any presence of bacteria can be very damaging and even fatal, especially since transfusion throughout the body can be rather rapid. Sepsis or septic shock can occur as a result of this condition, both of which can be fatal. Meningitis is an infection causing the membranes around the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed and swell. Because of the infections proximity to the brain, meningitis can quickly become life threatening. Urinary tract infections, or UTIs as they are more commonly known, are infections affecting the urinary tract. In humans, they generally cause a frequent need to urinate, pain, and clouded urine. The most common form of UTIs are bladder infections.
Enterococcus faecalis can become highly resistant to most commonly administered antibiotics, making treatment harder in some cases. Because of this, early detection is important, especially if an infection is contracted in a hospital setting. At present, it seems vancomycin is the most effective antimicrobial agent in combating Enterococcus faecalis infections, although resistance to this agent is also becoming more common.
In a number of cases, Enterococcus faecalis has been believed to be responsible for water contamination issues. Public or open bodies of water in the United States are required to maintain a low level of contamination, some as strict as 7 units per 100mL of water. As of 2004, the Enterococcus genus of bacteria became the new federal standard for determining water quality on the country’s public beaches.