Healthcare News & Insights

Dogs may help hospitals fight superbugs

Infection control is a serious issue for hospitals, especially regarding deadly superbugs. These bacteria sicken thousands of patients each year, and hospitals are trying many tactics to keep them under control. Soon, they may have some assistance in sniffing out superbugs from man’s best friend. 

GettyImages-512819992The heightened sense of smell possessed by dogs has been used for everything from discovering illegal drugs to finding missing people.

Now, it’s also becoming a tool hospitals can use to detect the presence of specific types of bacteria.

Scent of a superbug

As written in an article from CBS News, Canada’s Vancouver General Hospital is boosting its infection prevention efforts with a dog that’s been trained to track down C. diff, a superbug that’s been traditionally tough for facilities to control.

Angus, a Springer spaniel, may be the world’s first bacteria-sniffing dog, according to the CBS News article. His trainer, Teresa Zurberg, nearly died after contracting C. diff during a hospital stay. That experience inspired her to see if she could teach a dog how to find superbugs in hospitals.

Zurberg had years of practice training dogs to find bombs and drugs, and she wanted to see if they’d be as effective with detecting the presence of bacteria.

As a puppy, Angus began his training with Zurberg. He went from sniffing out kibble to getting familiar with the C. diff odor. Although humans can’t detect a smell from bacteria like C. diff, dogs’ keen sense of smell means they can be trained to identify the germ with their noses.

After Angus finished his training, Vancouver General Hospital tested his skills, and he ended up picking up the C. diff scent at least 95% of the time. Because of his high success rate, he’ll soon be working full-time for the hospital.

If Angus finds C. diff in a hospital room, staff step in and perform additional cleaning of the room, targeting any areas that may be infected. The hospital also uses ultraviolet disinfection machines to make sure the bacteria’s been removed from the room.

Future implications

While Angus is a rare breed, dogs like him may not be uncommon for long.

Per the CBS News article, Zurberg is working on training Angus’ brother, Dodger, to track the C. diff scent, and she said she’d try to help any other hospital that’s interested in getting its own superbug-sniffing pooch. Facilities across the globe have already reached out to her after hearing about Angus’ high accuracy rate with finding superbugs.

Measures such as cleaning surfaces regularly and practicing proper hand hygiene are key to preventing the spread of superbugs such as C. diff in hospitals. However, if dogs that can detect superbugs become more common, hospitals will have an additional method to help them get rid of dangerous germs that aren’t always easily detected.

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