Hopkins ABX Guide

Vancomycin Antibiotic (Oral, Intravenous)

What is Vancomycin and When It is Used?

Vancomycin is a type of the so-called glycopeptide antibiotics and is used to treat a variety of bacterial infections. It works by killing the bacteria causing the infection or by inhibiting their growth. It is sometimes used in combination with other types of antibiotics and is administered in the form of intravenous injection or taken orally, depending on the type of infection and its location. Vancomycin isn’s effective for viral diseases such as flu and common cold.

How is Vancomycin Taken/Administered?

The antibiotic is administered in the form of injection to treat serious infections that are caused by Gram-positive bacteria but only if other medications have failed. Intravenous vancomycin is also used to treat infections that are caused by methicillin-resistant strains of Streptococcus aureus (MRSA). It is administered slowly one to two times per day. The dosage depends on the severity of infection and the patient’s overall health, kidney function and weight.

Vancomycin is taken by mouth to treat diarrhoea due to intestinal infection by Clostridium difficile bacterium. It is usually taken four times per day over a period of 7 to 10 days, depending on the severity of the infection. Oral vancomycin works only against bacteria in the intestines. It is ineffective as treatment of bacterial infections affecting other organs/parts of the body.

Side Effects of Vancomycin

Like every other medication, vancomycin can sometimes cause unwanted effects. Patients who are taking it orally may experience stomach upset and nausea. Severe allergic reactions are rare but aren’t impossible. Seek medical attention immediately if developing a rash, experiencing difficulties breathing, dizziness or/and swelling in the mouth or face. It is also very important to contact a doctor if experiencing any changes in hearing - e.g. loss of hearing or ringing in the ears, fever, severe diarrhoea or/and changes in the amount of urine.

Patients receiving vancomycin intravenously may experience pain and redness at the site of the injection. If administered too quickly, vancomycin can cause the so-called red man syndrome which is characterised by flushing in the face and upper part of the body, and low blood pressure. Prolonged use of the drug increases the risk of vaginal yeast infection and yeast infection of the mouth (thrush). Severe allergic reactions are rare but it is crucial to get medical help right away if developing a rash, swelling in the mouth or face, or having difficulties breathing.