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Vancomycin – Effect, Application & Risks


A glycopeptide antibiotic is called vancomycin . It is used when other antibiotics are no longer effective due to bacterial resistance.

What is vancomycin?

Vancomycin is a glycopeptide antibiotic used to treat gram-positive bacteria. It assumes the status of a reserve antibiotic and is administered to treat inflammation of the lining of the heart ( endocarditis ) or inflammation of the meninges ( meningitis ).

The development of vancomycin took place in the 1950s. The manufacturers obtained the drug from cultures of the bacterial species Amycolatopsis orientalis. In 1959, the glycopeptide antibiotic hit the market. However, it was not until the 1980s that the drug was successfully administered against staph bacteria that were resistant to other antibiotics. As hospital germs, staphylococci are responsible for nosocomial infections .

Vancomycin is one of the third-line antibiotics. It is usually only used when other antibiotics are no longer effective due to the resistance of the staphylococci.

Pharmacological action

Together with teicoplanin , vancomycin represents the group of glycopeptide antibiotics. As a result, it has the property of inhibiting the bacterial cell wall protein murein. Murein is extremely important for the bacteria. As a result of its inhibition, vancomycin develops bactericidal effects which, after a certain time, lead to the destruction of the bacteria.

However, the duration of action of vancomycin is significantly shorter than that of teicoplanin. Another disadvantage of the drug is that it is poorly tolerated by some patients.

Due to the fact that vancomycin interferes with the cell wall structure of the bacteria and the germs die off as a result , the defense system only has to excrete the pathogens from the organism. As a result, the patient gets better quickly.

The advantage of vancomycin is that glycopeptide antibiotics still work well against most types of bacteria. These primarily include staphylococci such as the hospital germ Staphylococcus aureus and the enterococci type of bacteria . In recent years, however, some bacterial strains have also developed resistance to vancomycin, which poses further problems for medicine.

If vancomycin is taken orally, the drug does not get from the intestine into the blood . So the intestinal wall cannot be overcome by the antibiotic. This can be useful when treating local intestinal infections . In order for vancomycin to take effect in body tissues, it is necessary to inject the drug directly into the bloodstream. The antibiotic is eliminated from the body via the urine .

Medical Application & Use

Vancomycin is usually administered for bacterial infections against which other antibiotics such as cephalosporins , macrolide antibiotics or penicillins are no longer effective because the pathogens are resistant to them or the patient suffers from a severe allergy to conventional antibiotics.

Areas of application for vancomycin include bacterial blood poisoning (sepsis), endocarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart), pneumonia , infections of the soft tissues, inflammation of the bone marrow and periosteum , and bacterial joint inflammation .

Vancomycin is also used in surgical procedures. The agent serves to prevent bacterial infections of the heart , joints , bones and blood vessels .

As a capsule, vancomycin is only taken to treat severe intestinal infections. This is usually a pseudomembranous enterocolitis. This often occurs as a result of treatment with other antibiotics. In addition, vancomycin is administered through an infusion .

In the event of a serious bacterial disease, the use of vancomycin is possible even in babies. Vancomycin requires a prescription. Therefore, the remedy is only available by presenting a doctor’s prescription in the pharmacy .

Risks & side effects

Vancomycin can cause unwanted side effects in about 1 to 10 percent of all patients . It is not uncommon for allergic reactions or gastrointestinal problems to occur . Other side effects can be skin rash , itching , damage to the kidneys , inflammation of the mucous membrane , ringing in the ears , nausea , vomiting , chills , fever , inflammation of the blood vessels , low blood pressure or shock . In the worst case, there is even a threatcardiac arrest . Rarely is an overgrowth of the body with fungi in the realm of possibility.

Vancomycin should not be administered at all if the patient is hypersensitive to the substance. If there is severe hearing damage, only infusion treatment with vancomycin is possible if the patient’s life is in danger. During pregnancy , the antibiotic should only be used if the risk and benefit have been carefully weighed up by the doctor beforehand. Even when breastfeeding , vancomycin can only be used if there are no other treatment options, since the drug passes into breast milk and can cause health problems in the baby.

There is a risk of interactions if vancomycin is taken at the same time as other medications. If the antibiotic is administered with aminoglycosides , for example , this can have negative effects on the ears and kidneys. In addition, anesthetics have an intensifying effect on allergies to vancomycin, which become noticeable through a drop in blood pressure or changes in the skin.

The administration of vancomycin has no negative effects on the ability to react . This allows the patient to take part in traffic without any problems. It is also possible to operate heavy machinery.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.