Hospital dog sniffs out C. difficile, saves lives
Christy Somos, with a report from CTV Ottawa's Joanne Schnurr
Published Friday, May 3, 2019 8:51PM EDT
Angus the dog has a very special nose. It doesn’t sniff out bombs, drugs or other contraband, but the microscopic spores of the Clostridium difficile bacteria, or C. difficile.
C. difficile spores are passed in feces, and spread by improper hand washing -- affecting common surfaces, food and objects. Hospitals and long-term care facilities are particularly common breeding grounds for the bacteria -- with elderly patients and those with weakened immune systems or on antibiotics particularly susceptible.
Angus tours hospitals seeking out C. difficile bacteria with his handler Teresa Zurberg, herself a past sufferer of C. difficile.
“In 2013, I… had C. diff and at the time I was a professional canine handler,” Zurberg told CTV Ottawa’s Joanne Schnurr. “I worked and trained bomb dogs and drug dogs.”
Zurberg’s husband was a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital at the time, and saw an article about a dog in Amsterdam that was trained to find C. difficile on patients.
“Markus [Zurberg’s husband] came home and asked, ‘Hey Teresa can you train a dog to do that?’” Zurberg said. “I told him, ‘If it’s got an odour I can train a dog to find it.’”
After the Zurberg’s presented their case to Vancouver General, Angus was on his way -- at the time he was the only dog in North America trained to find “environmental contamination” of C. difficile.
Now other dogs are being trained to do what Angus does, and paired with innovations like ultraviolet disinfection machines, cases of C. difficile infections will hopefully go down.
This week Angus spent half his time at the Ottawa Hospital and half at the Queensway-Carlton, finding about 20 alerts at each hospital, giving health workers clues on where the bacteria hides, sometimes in the most unlikely places.