A New Kind of Sniffer Dog
Superbugs are a serious threat to hospital patients. The bacteria are not always detected in time by staff and patients who are already ill can then suffer horrendous infections. These can sometimes prove fatal. Now, one Canadian hospital has found an efficient way to detect the bacteria – a sniffer dog.
Angus the two-year-old springer spaniel is a canine hospital employee who has been trained to sniff out the bacteria Clostridium difficile.
Three years ago, Teresa Zurberg, a resident of Vancouver, suffered a terrible C difficile infection and almost died. Her husband was a nurse specialising in patient safety and has recently read an article about a beagle in Holland who had been trained to sniff out the bacteria. Markus Zurberg’s job involved training bomb and drug detecting dogs and so he believed that he would be able to train a dog to detect C difficile. The couple’s own dog, Angus, seemed like the perfect chap for the task.
The Zurbergs approached Vancouver Coastal Health who were keen to support their project. Angus became part of a unique pilot program to tackle a global health issue. It took 10 months to complete his reward based training and he has turned out to be very good at his new job!
Sniffing Out the Problem
Angus moves from bed to bed in the hospital and when he detects the presence of C Difficile, the area is disinfected using ultraviolet light. He focusses on areas of the hospital rather than the patients to minimise the chances of triggering allergies. Angus works four days a week at the hospital. There is a small risk that he may contract a C difficile infection himself but he is young and fit and so the risks are extremely low.
The project has attracted the attention of health authorities across the globe. Markus Zurberg has been contacted by many health officials with questions about Angus. Zurberg would like to develop a program to train more dogs and then to make them available to hospitals around the world. He believes that he has only scratched the surface of what could be achieved as it may be possible to train dogs to detect many other bugs and diseases.
The achievements of this little dog and his trainer have demonstrated that it could be possible to gain control over a terrible superbug. 64% of C difficile infections in Canada are contracted in hospitals. The situation is similar in other countries. These infections result in longer hospital stays and then increase the likelihood of yet more infections.