March 12, 2018 7:05 pm
Updated: March 13, 2018 2:06 am

Infection fighting dog to make his way to B.C. Interior

WATCH: Today's Global News Hour at 6 Health Matters is brought to you by Pharmasave. A bacteria-sniffing dog that tracks down harmful C. difficile is about to hit the road. “Angus” is so good at his job he's being sent to help other hospitals around the province. Linda Aylesworth reports.

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In 2016, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) introduced a four-legged bacteria fighter to help wipe out a nasty superbug in hospitals.

Two years later, the dog is heading to the B.C. Interior to showcase his infection detecting skills.

Angus is a three-year old English springer spaniel that is trained to detect C. difficile spores in hospitals. He and his trainer, Teresa Zurberg, will visit Interior Health next month to exhibit Angus’ abilities to sniff out the bacteria in common and clinical areas, as well as patient units when patients are not nearby.

WATCH: Dogs successfully sniffing out superbug in B.C. hospitals


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Teresa Zurberg is the Senior Canine Handler and Trainer for VCH. She said the work Angus does is vital because there is currently no technology available that can detect the bacteria as efficiently as the pup.

“To try and swab every surface and try to grow all those swabs to see if we find any C. diff, which then also takes days and days, it’s just logistically not feasible,” Zurberg said.

The three-year old pooch and a second dog, Dodger, are members of an infection prevention team that consists of an Infection Control Practioner and housekeeping staff. Once the two detect the bacteria, the infected area or patient room is cleaned with an ultraviolet-C light disinfecting robot known as ‘R-D’. or Rapid Disinfector. Since Angus began working at Vancouver General Hospital in 2016, VCH said C. difficile cases contracted in hospitals have declined significantly.

READ MORE: Angus the C. difficile sniffing dog fully trained to recognize dangerous superbug

Angus’ trainer said the way the dog’s nose and brain work together to pick out the bacteria is unique because humans do not share that same ability.

“They’re so sensitive that we can get him to find those little bacterias and there is no other technology that can do what he does,” Zurberg said.

In 2013, Zurberg contracted C. difficile and lost 20 pounds within one week due to the bacteria. She said she was younger and healthier than most people that catch the infection and the bacteria can be even more severe to older people.

“If you imagine that weight loss happening to one of our elderly patients, who is compromised and possibly has other medical complications going on, it can be fatal for them,” Zurberg said.

C. difficile, also known as Clostridium difficile, is a superbug that attacks people whose immune systems are depleted by antibiotics. If someone catches the dangerous microbe, the bacteria usually grow in the bowel or digestive system and can lead to diarrhea or intestinal conditions. Symptoms can also include fever, abdominal pain, cramps, fast heartbeat and loss of appetite.

The three-year old dog has been detecting C. difficile since 2016 when he started at Vancouver General Hospital.

Vancouver Coastal Health

There are many times where “in-the-moment” teaching takes place for staff, patients and their families about the bacteria, and Zurberg said Angus’ appearance plays a significant role in those educational sessions.

“Him being cute with those floppy ears, he opens up a lot of conversation,” Zurberg said.

The three-year old pooch can usually be found at VCH four times a week, but according to Zurberg, Angus would love work non-stop if she allowed it.

“He just loves going to work every day,” Zurberg said. “That dog would work seven days a week, 24 hours if I let him.

 

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