BMJ: Dogs sniff out C. diff infections in the hospital

Canine screening process is quick, highly accurate, study finds

Narcotics, explosives, and… clostridium difficile? A new study in BMJ finds that dogs' noses can locate the deadly bacteria by smelling the air around hospital patients, adding the superbug to canines' growing screening repertoire.

According to the study, a trainer taught Cliff—a two-year-old male beagle—to recognize the smell of C. diff infections in stool samples and in the air by sitting or lying down. In 100 patient fecal samples, Cliff correctly identified:

  • All 50 patients with C. diff infections;
  • 47 out of 50 patients without infections.

In addition, Cliff toured two hospital wards to test his sense of smell with patients. He correctly identified:

  • 265 out of 270 patients without infections; and
  • 25 out of 30 patients with infections.

According to the study, the beagle worked quickly and systematically: He was able to scan the entire hospital ward for C. diff in less than 10 minutes. By comparison, Medical News Today notes that traditional C. diff tests can be expensive, slow, and can delay treatment by up to a week, compromising a hospital's ability to prevent an outbreak.

The team of Dutch researchers concluded that canine screening "could have great potential for C. difficile infection screening in health care facilities and thus contribute to C. difficile infection outbreak control and prevention" (Fitzgerald, Medical News Today, 12/14).

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