He doesn’t wear a cape, but Angus is a superhero by anyone’s standards. At two years old, Angus possesses a super power to detect microscopic villains before they wreak havoc. His special weapon is his nose. His nemesis is an invisible superbug called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. And his trusted sidekick is Teresa Zurberg, his K9 handler and trainer.
Together, Angus and Teresa are partnering with Vancouver General Hospital’s (VGH) Infection Control team on a new pilot program designed to detect C. diff, a highly transmittable bacteria that can cause diarrhea and other serious complications in patients. Angus has been rigorously trained to sniff out the odor associated with C. diff. The team’s goal is to use the springer spaniel to alert them of the presence of the harmful bacteria on surfaces (not on patients) before it has the chance to spread.
Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, VGH’s Medical Director of Infection Control, says that while hospitals are good at identifying cases in patients through stool culture tests, there hasn’t been a timely and cost effective way to detect the presence of this bacteria on surfaces or in the environment.
Angus, North America’s first dog trained to sniff C. diff, is changing all of that.
“Angus can sweep a large clinical area in 10-15 minutes,” Dr. Bryce explains. “He can tell us what’s there right away, and we can act on it right away.”
When Angus detects bacteria, the Infection Control team and housekeeping staff act swiftly to clean and disinfect the area using a variety of specialized methods, including ultraviolet-C light disinfection technology.
Teresa, who is also Angus’ owner, has been the inspiration behind the new pilot progam. An experienced K9 trainer, Teresa ended up in hospital in 2013 after injuring her leg. While there, she contracted C. diff and has battled recurrences since.
A year after her hospital stay, Teresa and her husband formulated their idea and pitched it to VGH leaders.
“They were all over it,” Teresa recalls. “They liked the innovation behind it. They liked the possibilities it could bring, and they supported it.”
Once the pilot program is complete, Teresa and Angus hope to become full-fledged members of VGH’s Infection Control team, and plans are underway to train Dodger, Teresa’s second springer spaniel, to expand the program’s reach.
What is a Superbug?
Superbugs are a collection of different germs, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile (C. diff) that are very resistant to antibiotics. Canadian data suggests that one in ten patients admitted to hospital will get one of these bacteria.
Who is at Risk?
Individuals most vulnerable are:
- over 65 years old
- have an underlying illness
- experienced prolonged hospital stays
- have taken or are taking antibiotics
Join us in supporting this dynamic duo’s effort to wipe out C. diff with a sniff. Your contribution will help us establish this innovation, increase canine training, and expand the program.