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Finding C. difficile in Vancouver General Hospital with the help of a unique and furry employee

WATCH: A very special Vancouver Hospital employee named Angus is being recognized today for his work in saving lives. Jordan Armstrong explains.

A special employee of Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) is being recognized today for his unique ability to save lives.

Angus, a two-and-a-half-year-old English springer spaniel, is trained to detect Clostridium difficile  or C. difficile, a superbug that attacks people whose immune systems have been weakened by antibiotics.

While most dogs aren’t allowed to roam the halls of VGH, Angus has been a part of the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) infection fighting team for several months and passed his probation today.

“Since Angus started working in the hospital, we’ve been learning a lot from him and this innovative new approach to detecting C. difficile,” Health Minister Terry Lake said.

“As a formerly practicing veterinarian, I’m not surprised to hear how well Angus has been doing. He is a welcome addition to the VCH infection control team.”

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C. difficile is a difficult bacteria for humans to detect and it can cause infectious diarrhea in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Angus has spent the last few months working full-time at VGH and has detected C. difficile in discarded pieces of furniture and outdated medical equipment. As a result of Angus’ work, VGH staff now know there’s a connection between clutter and C. difficile.

Angus with his owner and dog trainer, Teresa Zurberg.
Angus with his owner and dog trainer, Teresa Zurberg.

Not only is he efficient but the furry infection-fighter has been well received by patients and staff.

“The integration of Angus into a busy health care environment has been seamless,” Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, VCH Head of Infection Control, said.

“Angus has provided us with a whole new window for identifying reservoirs of C. difficile that we hadn’t identified in the past.”

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WATCH: How Angus was trained to detect C. difficile

How Angus was trained to detect C. difficile
How Angus was trained to detect C. difficile

But Angus isn’t the only one of his kind. He’s part of a larger K9 Infection Prevention Team that includes clinicians, housekeeping staff and a second dog, Dodger. Just like Angus, Dodger is a springer spaniel with superb detection abilities.

While Dodger is still in training and in the early stages of training to detect C. difficile, his dog trainer, Jamie Kinna, says he’s doing extremely well.

“[Dodger] has a ton of energy, which is exactly what he needs and he takes everything in stride,” Kinna said. “He just wants to work, work, work.”

Will other B.C. hospitals be seeing more K9s on staff? Lake says you can count on it.

“This is very innovative and I wouldn’t be surprised to see programs start up in other hospitals in B.C. or across the country or even in the U.S. as well,” Lake said.

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