Dogs have been sniffing out danger for people since the human-canine relationship began eons ago.
These days, dogs work alongside humans in all kinds of situations — whether detecting bombs in military roles, keeping servicemen and women safe, preventing contraband from making it through airport security, even sniffing out hidden hard drives and helping police put child-porn purveyors behind bars.
Now they are even helping us fight unseen enemies in our hospitals.
According to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even many of the nation’s leading medical institutions are losing the battle to protect patients from drug-resistant bacteria.
The superbugs cost the health care industry about $5 billion a year, but one hospital in Vancouver has come up with a solution, reports CBS News.
And their weapon is named Angus.
With his remarkable sense of smell, Angus the springer spaniel is on a mission to track down the most common kind of hospital superbug called Clostridium difficile or C. diff, which is considered a “hazard level urgent.”
“Their sense of smell is above and beyond anything we can even comprehend,” dog trainer, Teresa Zurburg, told CBS News.
C. diff is caused by antibiotic use or contact with contaminated surfaces. It’s highly contagious and often deadly. It kills 15,000 people a year. And Angus can smell it.
“It will always be present in your hospital, so what you’re trying to do is control it. That’s where Angus comes into play,” said Elizabeth Bryce of the Vancouver Coastal Health Infection Prevention and Control. “He’s trained to detect C. difficile in the environment. The advantage for us is, if he alerts on something, then what we can do is additional targeted cleaning and we’re going to couple it with our ultra-violet disinfection machines.”
Three years ago, Zurburg was training bomb and drug dogs when she contracted C. diff and nearly died. Her husband, a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital, suggested she try to train a dog to detect the superbug.
She did, and now this hospital’s program is among the first of its kind.
“They definitely thought it was out-of-the-box thinking. And it helped that Angus was kind of cute,” Zurburg said.
Zurburg brought Angus home when he was just 10 weeks old, and started training early. These days, when tested in rooms where the C. diff odors are hidden, his success rate is between 95 and 100 percent. He has passed all his certifications and will soon be working at Vancouver General full time.
Angus is Zurburg’s first C. diff sniffer, but not for long. His brother Dodger will be next, and Zurburg said she’s been getting inquiries from hospitals around the world.
”We’re happy to help anybody try and get their own C. Diff dog,” Zurburg said. “What we can use them for, it’s only limited by our imagination.”