Superbug Dog can sniff out deadly viruses and save lives

Superbug Dog Angus the springer spaniel has been saving lives in a Vancouver hospital, thanks to his phenomenal sense of smell.

Angus has been trained to sniff out Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff, is one of the most common hospital superbugs and is considered “hazard level urgent.”

Superbug Dog 1

Superbugs are one of the primary threats to patients, staff and visitors to hospitals around the world. In the US alone, they are reported to cost the health care industry upwards of $5 billion per year. Dogs, however, may hold the key to catching more of the viruses in time to prevent or act upon them. This clever canine, for example, was the focus of a recent report on CBS This Morning, which showed him in action.

Superbug dog trainer, Teresa Zurberg told the network that “Their sense of smell is above and beyond anything we can even comprehend,” she used to train dogs to sniff out bombs, but contracted C. Diff and was almost killed by the virus. This led her to altering her skills in a bid to help others; “I said, ‘if it’s got an odor, I can train a dog to find it.’”

Zurberg got Angus when he was only 10 weeks old and began his training almost immediately:

“Even on the way home I had started training him just by throwing kibble out in the grass and giving him a search command. So he started associating using his nose with getting rewards. We then paired the odor with it, so he learned to associate the C. diff odor with his toy,” Zurberg said.

Angus is now ready to begin work full time at Vancouver General Hospital, as ne has achieved a 95 to 100 per cent success rate.

Elizabeth Bryce of the Vancouver Coastal Health Infection Prevention and Control adds;

“C. Difficile is a bacteria. It forms spores so it can persist in our environment for long periods of time. 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. There’s an analogy that we can perhaps smell a teaspoon of sugar in our coffee or tea and he can smell a teaspoon in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. So that’s how exquisitely sensitive they are.”

If the programme is a success, we can expect to see many more superbug dogs like Angus patrolling our hospitals, and we’ll all be better off for it.

Colin J McCracken

Colin J McCracken is a content designer, editor and writer from Ireland. Giving form and function to the My Good Planet vision, it has been his role to design and develop the online platform, content and presence of the project.

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