How does it work?
Vancomycin is a type of medicine called an antibiotic. It is used to treat infections caused by bacteria.
Vancomycin belongs to a group of antibiotics called glycopeptides. It works by interfering with the ability of bacteria to form cell walls.
The cell walls of bacteria are vital for their survival. They keep unwanted substances from entering their cells and stop the contents of their cells from leaking out. The bacterial cell wall is reinforced by molecules called peptidoglycans. Vancomycin works by blocking the formation of these peptidoglycans. This weakens the walls of the bacteria and kills the bacteria.
Vancomycin injection is given via a drip into a vein to treat serious infections caused by bacteria, including infections of the heart and blood. It works in a different way to other antibiotics and is usually reserved for treating potentially life-threatening infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to other antibiotics. These include MRSA.
What is it used for?
- Treating infection of the lining of the heart cavity and heart valves (bacterial endocarditis).
- Treating other severe, potentially life-threatening infections caused by bacteria, when other antibiotics have not been effective, or when the bacteria are resistant to other antibiotics, for example MRSA.
- Prevention infection during surgery when there is a high risk of introducing MRSA infection.
- Vancomycin injection solution can also be taken by mouth to treat inflammation of the bowel lining (pseudomembranous colitis or enterocolitis) caused by infection with a type of bacteria called Clostridium difficile (sometimes just called C diff) or by Staphylococcal infection. See our factsheet on Vancocin capsules for more information on this use.
- Your doctor will want to monitor your kidney function and your hearing while you are being treated with this medicine.
- Your doctor will also want you to have regular blood tests during treatment to check the levels of this medicine in your blood and to monitor your blood cells.
- Prolonged treatment with antibiotics can sometimes cause overgrowth of other organisms that are not susceptible to the antibiotic, for example fungi or yeasts such as Candida. This may sometimes cause infections such as thrush. Tell your doctor if you think you have developed a new infection during or after treatment with this antibiotic.
Use with caution in
- Elderly people.
- People with decreased kidney function.
- People with a history of hearing problems.
Not to be used in
This medicine should not be used if you are allergic to one or any of its ingredients. Please inform your doctor or pharmacist if you have previously experienced such an allergy. If you feel you have experienced an allergic reaction, stop using this medicine and inform your doctor or pharmacist immediately.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Certain medicines should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding. However, other medicines may be safely used in pregnancy or breastfeeding providing the benefits to the mother outweigh the risks to the unborn baby. Always inform your doctor if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, before using any medicine.
- This medicine should be used with caution during pregnancy, and only if the expected benefit to the mother is greater than any possible risk to the developing baby. The level of the medicine in your blood should be regularly checked to minimise any potential risks to the baby. Ask your doctor for more information if you are or think you could be pregnant.
- This medicine passes into breast milk. However it is poorly absorbed from the gut, so it is unlikely that a nursing infant would absorb sufficient amounts of the medicine to cause any problems. The manufacturer states that this medicine should be used with caution in women who are breastfeeding. Ask your doctor for further advice.
Medicines and their possible side effects can affect individual people in different ways. The following are some of the side effects that are known to be associated with this medicine. Just because a side effect is stated here, it does not mean that all people using this medicine will experience that or any side effect.
- Reactions related to the infusion, such as low blood pressure, wheezing or shortness of breath, flushing of the upper body, hives, itching, or pain and muscle spasm of the chest and back. These reactions usually resolve within 20 minutes of having the injection, but may persist for several hours. They are much less likely if the medicine is given very slowly via a drip.
- Inflammation of the vein where the injection is administered.
- Feeling sick.
- Disturbances in the usual numbers of blood cells in the blood.
- Spinning sensation (vertigo).
- Sensation of ringing or other noise in the ears (tinnitus).
- Hearing problems.
- Kidney failure.
- Rashes (some severe).
The side effects listed above may not include all of the side effects reported by the medicine's manufacturer.
For more information about any other possible risks associated with this medicine, please read the information provided with the medicine or consult your doctor or pharmacist.
How can this medicine affect other medicines?
It is important to tell your doctor or pharmacist what medicines you are already taking, including those bought without a prescription and herbal medicines, before you start treatment with this medicine. Similarly, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medicines while being treated with this one, to make sure that the combination is safe.
There may be an increased chance of hearing problems or side effects on the kidneys if this medicine is used in combination with other medicines that can cause these problems, such as the following:
- aminoglycoside antibiotics such as neomycin
- amphotericin B
- loop diuretics such as furosemide
- polymixin B
Administration of vancomycin and anaesthetic agents together can lead to hypersensitivity or allergic reactions.
Oral typhoid vaccine (Vivotif) should not be taken until at least three days after you have finished a course of this antibiotic, because the antibiotic could make the vaccine less effective.
Other medicines containing the same active ingredient
- Vancocin capsules
- Vancocin injection
Vancomycin capsules are also available without a brand name, ie as the generic medicine.