Canadian Hospital Welcomes First Dog Trained to Detect Superbugs

A 2-year-old English springer spaniel named Angus started his new gig at Vancouver General Hospital on Tuesday

Never fear, Angus is here!

The 2-year-old English springer spaniel started his new gig on Tuesday at Vancouver General Hospital, where he’s the first pooch in Canada trained to search out superbugs. According to The Vancouver Sun, who reported the story, the pup succeeds Cliff the beagle, the world’s first C. diff. sniffer, who resides in the Netherlands and is retired.

Angus is fresh from a year of intensive training which came courtesy of his owner, Teresa Zurberg, a survivor of a near-fatal hospital superbug infection called Clostridium difficile or C. diff. There are about 220,000 such infections contracted in hospitals each year across the country, the Sun said, and even more frighteningly, 8,000 deaths.

“I’m really humbled by detective dogs, just totally awed by what they can do. And Angus has proven he’s perfect for this kind of work. He doesn’t have an off switch. He’s persistent, energetic, athletic, independent, and has a huge hunt drive,” said Zurberg, who owns Angus with her husband Markus, a nurse who works in patient safety and quality care at the hospital.

But before you worry about patients who may be allergic to Angus, here’s how he does what he does.

“Angus isn’t going to be smelling patients. C. diff. is spread through fecal-oral routes, poor hand hygiene, and contaminated surfaces so Angus will detect it in places that need to be cleaned better. C. diff. has a distinct odor. If there’s a scent to find, he’ll get to it,” Zurberg told the Sun.

Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, medical director of infection control for Vancouver Coastal Health region, said Angus can detect the “barn smell” associated with C. diff. toxins.

“We’re using his talents to look for reservoirs of C. diff. in places like unoccupied rooms, bathrooms and hallways,” Bryce said. “We want Angus to make a quick sweep of the areas and then when he detects something, we can do more cleaning.”

Bryce said hospital executives were keen to have a canine like Angus on staff doing this life-saving work (“There were no naysayers,” she said). How many hours Angus will work or how much he and Zurberg will be paid hasn’t yet been determined.

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