Super Dog Sniffs Out Superbugs at Vancouver Hospital
Angus is an English Springer Spaniel owned by dog trainer Teresa Zorburg. Interestingly, Teresa came down with a C. difficile infection and lost 20 pounds in 5 days and still has lasting effects from the infection. She almost died from the it.
Because she was used to training dogs to sniff out bombs and drugs, Teresa’s husband, a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital, had the brilliant idea to train Angus how to find the superbug that was causing millions of people worldwide to be sick.
What is C. Diff?
C. diff is now more common in hospitals than MRSA (antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcal infection). It’s associated with health problems leading to severe colitis and even a condition called megacolon. Whenever a patient is in the hospital now and develops diarrhea, C. diff is the microbe that the lab tests for.
And during the last 16 years, there has been a fourfold increase in the number of those hospitalized for infection from C. diff. The elderly, those who received organ transplants, those with cancer and bowel diseases are those who generally die from the disease.
Why Dogs Can Sniff Out Microbes
Microbes give off volatile compounds that may be sniffed out by a dog, whose nose is hundreds of times more sensitive than our own. The bacteria also forms spores somewhat like mold forms spores, which stay in the environment. Then, when the right conditions occurring the environment, C. diff starts reproducing, infecting people.
C. diff can’t be seen with the naked eye – but Angus can smell it. So on his rounds in hospitals, Angus tells the hospital staff the areas where they have to clean more thoroughly. That’s when the staff brings in their disinfection machines that use UV-light to sanitize the area.
Angus Was a Fast Learner
Angus’s training started when he was less than a year old. And at the end of his training, which lasted over a year, he was given a test. He had to sniff out all the C. diff hidden in a hospital room.
Angus passed with flying colors and found between 95 and 100% of them.
So now Angus has a job. He’s employed full time at Vancouver General Hospital to sniff out C. diff.
It’s confirmation that if you study hard, you can get a full-time job!
Although Angus is the first C. diff dog, his brother Dodger is currently learning the new skill. In fact, Teresa may have a new career. She can’t keep up with the demand coming in from hospitals around the world.
More by Donna Schwontkowski