Interior Health has come up with a doggone good way to hunt down a germ called Clostridium Difficile, which can cause life-threatening gastrointestinal illness.
Angus, an adorable springer spaniel, put his nose to the grindstone last month when he visited Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (KBRH) to sniff out the presence of the Clostridium Difficile (C.difficile) bacteria in several wards.
Angus is one of the few dogs in the world specially trained to hunt out this germ, which most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long-term care facilities. C.difficile infection typically occurs after use of antibiotics, and causes symptoms that range from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon.
Angus has been working with Interior Health’s Infection Prevention and Control team to identify additional control measures and prevention strategies at various sites including KBRH, which was the seventh Interior Health site he has toured.
“There are no outbreaks of C. difficile in any of our Interior Health facilities,” Val Wood, Director of Infection Prevention and Control, told Black Press. “The purpose of the Angus site visits is to evaluate what we cannot detect in the environment and to increase awareness and understanding among professionals and the public.”
He visited the KBRH Emergency Department, patient registration, surgical and intensive care wings, the third floor medical unit, and part of the fourth floor and oncology unit.
If Angus detects C.diff spores, he alerts his handler who records the location, item and any other details about the alert.
Angus regularly works out of Vancouver General Hospital, but thanks to a unique partnership, the dog and his handler have made several trips to Interior Health sites this year.
Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacterium that can live in the bowel without causing harm. For healthy people, C. difficile does not often pose a health risk. However, for people taking antibiotics or with weakened immune systems, such as patients who are elderly or undergoing chemotherapy, the normal balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive system may be upset. This imbalance allows C. difficile to grow to unusually high levels and produce toxins that can damage the bowel and cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping, dehydration, and even death.
The bacteria and their spores are shed in feces. People can acquire the bacteria if they touch items or surfaces like toilets, commodes and bathing tubs, that are contaminated with feces, and then touch their mouth or mucous membranes without washing their hands thoroughly.
C. difficile can live for long periods on surfaces and can spread very easily. With the help of canine scent detection health facilities can find hidden reservoirs such as carts, door handles, elevator buttons, shared keyboards.
The risk of acquiring the bug can be reduced by hand washing with soap and water.