This Incredible Nose Could Save 15,000 Lives Per Year

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December 02, 2016 • 22,301 views

Story at-a-glance

  • An English Springer Spaniel in Canada named Angus has become that country’s first certified clostridium difficile (C. diff.)-sniffing dog
  • Angus works with his handler at a hospital in Vancouver, sniffing out the deadly bacteria on surfaces throughout the building
  • Angus is both fast and accurate at detecting hidden C. diff toxins; he’s able to successfully identify contaminated surfaces 95 to 100 percent of the time

By Dr. Becker

As Dr. Mercola points out in his article "Why Hospital Beds Should Have Warning Signs," between 5 and 10 percent of people admitted to the hospital acquire an infection during their stay. In real numbers, this accounts for 1.7 million infections, 99,000 deaths and $20 billion in healthcare costs.

Studies show that if a person occupying a hospital bed is given antibiotics, the next patient who gets that bed has a greater risk of contracting clostridium difficile (C. diff.), a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can cause diarrhea, colitis, bowel perforation, sepsis and other health issues.

C. difficile forms spores that allow it to remain in the environment for long periods of time. It's caused by antibiotic use or through contact with contaminated surfaces. C. diff is highly contagious. In the U.S. alone, it causes a half a million infections each year and kills 15,000 people.

Hospital's Secret Weapon Against Undetected C. Difficile Contamination

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even many of the leading medical institutions in the U.S. are losing the battle to protect hospitalized patients from drug-resistant bacteria.1 But a hospital in Vancouver, B.C., has come up with an inspired solution.

His name is Angus, and he's a 2-year-old English Springer Spaniel who has been trained as a C. difficile-sniffing dog. Angus uses his extraordinary sense of smell to track down C. diff bacteria, which carries a "hazard level urgent" classification, on surfaces (not patients) throughout Vancouver General hospital.

Dr. Elizabeth Bryce of the Vancouver Coastal Health Infection Prevention and Control, says C. diff "…'will always be present in your hospital, so what you're trying to do is control it.'"2

According to Bryce, hospitals have a variety of fecal odors, but Angus has the ability to detect the "barn smell" present in C. difficile toxins.

"We're using his talents to look for reservoirs of C. difficile in places like unoccupied rooms, bathrooms and hallways," Bryce told the Inquisitr. "We want Angus to make a quick sweep of the areas and then when he detects something, we can do more cleaning."3

When Angus alerts on a surface during his sniffing work, hospital staff performs additional targeted cleaning and also brings in one of their ultra-violet disinfection machines.

Angus Finds Hidden C. Diff Odors 95 to 100 Percent of the Time

Angus's trainer is Teresa Zurberg, who normally works with bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs. Zurberg actually contracted C. diff herself while receiving treatment for a cut on her leg.

She nearly died, losing 20 pounds in five days. Her husband, who happens to be a nurse at Vancouver General, suggested she try to train a dog to detect the deadly bacteria.

Zurberg figured if the bacteria had an odor, she could teach a dog to find it. She pitched the idea to the hospital, which agreed to a pilot program — the first of its kind.

"They definitely thought it was out-of-the-box thinking," Zurberg told CBS News. "And it helped that Angus was kind of cute."4

Zurberg brought Angus home when he was 10 weeks old, and began training him on day one.

"Even on the way home I had started training him just by throwing kibble out in the grass and giving him a search command," Zurberg said. "So he started associating using his nose with getting rewards. We then paired the odor with it, so he learned to associate the C. diff odor with his toy."5

Angus has been tested in areas of the hospital where C. diff odors are hidden, and has successfully identified them 95 to 100 percent of the time. He's also much faster at locating contaminated areas than other detection methods.

Angus has passed all his exams, and is now the first certified dog in Canada to detect the C. difficile superbug in hospitals.

Angus' Sibling Dodger Is Now Being Trained to Sniff Out C. Diff

Zurberg and Angus have begun working at Vancouver General. Zurberg is also now training Angus' brother, Dodger, to be a C. diff-sniffing dog, and she's getting inquiries from hospitals all over the world. According to Zurberg, Angus' veterinarian is not worried about any effects on his physical or mental health from his work at the hospital. His risks are the same as those of any other working dog, says Zurberg.

"Angus has proven he's perfect for this kind of work," Zurberg told the Inquisitir. "He doesn't have an off switch. He's persistent, energetic, athletic, independent and has a huge hunt drive."6

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1, 2, 4, 5 CBS News, August 26, 2016
  • 3, 6 Inquisitor, July 6, 2016