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Monday 26th August 2019

Dog sniffs out C diff

14th December 2012

Researchers in the Netherlands say that a dog trained to sniff out the drug-resistant superbug Clostridium difficile correctly identified the bacteria in a reliable way in the majority of cases.


The dog - a two-year-old beagle named Cliff - was trained over a two-month period through repeated exposure to increasingly diluted strengths of an odour associated with C difficile infections in varied environments.

Trained by a professional, Cliff learned to sit or lie down when he detected the smell associated with C difficile infections.

The dog then successfully detected the presence of the bug in stool samples and in patients who were infected with it in hospital, according to the study led by Marije Bomers of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam.

The dog correctly distinguished between infected and infection-free patients in 25 out of 30 cases, according to the study, which was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

C difficile is now a serious public health concern and an ongoing problem for healthcare facilities managers, because of the increasing prevalence and severity of infections.

Outbreaks are hard to control once they occur in hospitals and other facilities, and early detection is crucial if the disease is to be contained.

However, current methods, which include cultures, enzyme immunoassays and DNA amplification tests take a long time and have high costs associated with them.

Researchers proceeded in the knowledge that the diarrhoea caused by a C difficile infection has a characteristic smell, according to nurses familiar with the diseases.

However, dogs have far more sensitivity to smell than people do, and Cliff correctly identified all 50 patients who had tested positive for the infection, as well as 47 of those that were negative.

For the remaining three in the negative group, Cliff's reaction was inconclusive, as he appeared to detect the odour, but then did not sit down.

The dog was then taken to two Amsterdam hospitals and exposed to 300 patients, only 30 of whom had confirmed infections, although the trainer was unaware which were which.

There were more errors and uncertainty on the wards, with patients trying to interact with the dog, and strong smells of bleach in some areas.

The researchers concluded that using dogs to detect C difficile infections was feasible, and produced highly accurate results within 10 minutes, suggesting great potential for the technique.

However, the method has shortcomings, as dogs are easily distracted, and can also carry the infection themselves, they said.

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