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Can You Sniff C. diff?

November 01, 2016


What are dogs really known for? Are they soft and cuddly? Man’s best friend? The fact: all are true, but one thing about dogs that we know to be true, is that they have an impeccable sense of smell.


How impeccable? This is more than sniffing out bacon or knowing the smell of one’s owner. In fact, a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be a 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than a human’s.


James Walker, the former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University explained that if one just assumed the minimum of 10,000, it would be the analogously equivalent of seeing 3,000 miles, when we could only see a 1/3 of a mile.  Similarly, this astonishing skill can also be explained as being able to detect parts per trillion. Alexandra Horowitz, writer of Inside of a Dog, who is also a canine cognition researcher at Barnard College, says that she may be able to notice if her coffee has only a teaspoon of sugar, but a dog would be able to detect this same amount of sugar, in two Olympics-sized pools worth of water (or a million gallons if you prefer).


So what explains their extreme sense of smell? Anatomically, a dog has over 220 million olfactory receptors compared to our five million. Furthermore, the part of their brain that is dedicated to smell is a whopping 40 times greater than ours.




Vancouver General Hospital is taking advantage of this knowledge to train a dog named Angus how to detect superbugs, like c. difficle, to reduce the spread of healthcare-associated infections.


Clostridium difficile, also known as c. diff, is one of the most common causes for infectious diarrhea in hospitals and long-term care facilities. This bacterium attacks the vulnerable digestive tract of patients whose systems have been weakened by antibiotics. In addition, this deadly germ is most commonly spread by poor hand hygiene and diffuses itself with stupefying speed through hospitals making it difficult to find the origin.


Angus is the first and only certified canine in Canada to detect these deadly bacteria in hospitals which is revolutionary in the quest for reducing healthcare-associated infections.


According to infection specialist, Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, she noted: “Let’s say we have a cluster of cases. We could bring Angus in. He could tell us if there are any hidden reservoirs and we could do additional cleaning.”

His trainer, Teresa Zurberg, who nearly died of a c. diff contraction, explained to CBC News that once the bacteria is detected, the area or room can be cleaned with a robot that uses UV light to disinfect 99.9% of c.diff particles. With the combination of Angus and their state-of-the art robot, the Vancouver General Hospital can zap out c.diff more quickly and efficiently with this newfound precision of man’s best friend. 


It is clear that the world, especially the realm of healthcare and infection prevention is constantly changing. It is changes like the inclusion of animals in this hospital for more than just therapy that will ultimately help hospitals win the battle against healthcare-associated infections.

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Originally published by The DebMed blog


The DebMed blog is the go-to source for hand hygiene and infection prevention related discussions occurring in the healthcare industry. Join the conversation! All readers are invited to comment, share stories and information, and post articles of interest.For more healthcare related articles on hand hygiene and infection prevention, subscribe to the DebMed Healthcare Blog.


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