If you were sick in a hospital and someone saved your life, your first thought probably wouldn’t be to thank a dog.
But some people in Vancouver General Hospital in Canada may owe their lives to Angus, an English springer spaniel, and his handler. Angus has been trained to sniff out the superbug Clostridium difficile, known as C-diff, which is a potentially deadly bacteria typically found in feces, according to the Province.
About 500,000 Americans are infected with C-diff each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it directly causes about 15,000 deaths in the U.S. annually.
People become infected with C-diff when they touch fecal matter with their hands and then touch their mouth or nose. It’s an issue in hospitals where patients are constantly churned through rooms that are cleaned frequently, but sometimes not thoroughly enough.
That’s where Angus comes in. At a press conference Monday, handlers of the dog hid a small sample of C-diff under a stretcher in a vacant hall to see how long it would take Angus to find it, according to the Province. He found it in under 10 seconds.
After Angus finds a spot, the hospital has an ultraviolet light disinfection robot that can kill 99.9 percent of C-diff spores. Angus has found C-diff about 100 times since he started at the hospital last summer.
Angus has also pointed out to medical staff areas of potential risk in the future, as he’s detected C-diff in discarded pieces of furniture and outdated medical equipment. The hospital is reviewing hygiene policies as a result of his work.
“As a result, we now know there’s a correlation between clutter and C. difficile, at least at Vancouver General Hospital,” Teresa Zurberg, Angus’ owner and handler, told Vancouver Coastal Health. “This is something Angus taught us, and we’re able to respond appropriately.”
While officials cannot say definitively if it is linked to Angus, the amount of cases of C-diff in the hospital have dropped since he started. There were 80 cases in the latest month statistics were available, compared to 108 cases in the same month last year, before Angus had started, according to the Province. That’s about a 26 percent drop.
Angus – who has his own Facebook page – was so successful that he’s getting a coworker. Dodger is another springer spaniel who will be trained to seek out the same superbug, and B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said the program could see expansion to other hospitals soon, according to the Province.