An English springer spaniel will soon be on the prowl at Vancouver General Hospital to sniff out Clostridium difficile — or C. difficile.

The bacteria are the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Two-year-old Angus was introduced Tuesday at the hospital after he passed his training tests for detecting C. difficile, which attacks people whose digestive tracts have been made vulnerable by antibiotics.

"We strive to continue to find ways to provide better care, and sometimes the answer is not more technology, but instead, man's best friend," said Health Minister Terry Lake in a statement.

Angus is the first certified dog in Canada enlisted to detect the bacteria in hospitals. On Tuesday, he was issued a hospital ID card during a demonstration for the media.

Hired to sniff out bacteria

Angus will start work prowling through the hospital later this summer.

Hospitals normally use ultraviolet light to find the C. difficile spores, but Angus works fast and can be extremely precise.

Angus ID badge

Angus is the first dog in Canada certified to detect C. difficile in a hospital setting. (Jacy Schindel)

Infection specialist Dr. Elizabeth Bryce said Angus's keen nose is a key part of the hospital's infection-fighting strategy.

"We can now target areas," Bryce said. "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, said Angus can find C. difficile in areas of the hospital that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Once the bacteria are detected, the area or patient room is cleaned with a state-of-the-art robot that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect 99.9 per cent of the C. difficile spores.

Zurberg contracted C. difficile and nearly died after she was treated for a gash on her leg.

Her illness, combined with her previous experience training dogs to sniff out drugs and bombs, prompted her to search for a sniffer dog to detect bacteria.

Sniffing canine exposes C. difficile2:13

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that Angus is the only C. difficile-sniffing dog in the world. In fact, he is the only certified C. difficile-sniffing dog in Canada, according to his trainer.
    Jul 05, 2016 5:28 PM PT
With files from Chris Brown