RSS

The Bulletin

Cliff the beagle sniffs out dangerous infections in hospitals

Posting in Technology

Researchers have found a way to harness a dog's superior sense of smell -- to sniff out early signs of a common yet problematic infection in hospitals. HealthDay reports.

The bacterium Clostridium difficile causes an infection of the bowel, with symptoms ranging from diarrhea to toxic megacolon. It’s particularly common in hospitals after patients receive antibiotics, since these disturb the normal balance of bacteria in the gut.

Cliff, a 2-year-old beagle, can diagnose this sort of infection just by walking past patients’ beds.

After two months of training using stool samples, Cliff was guided through hospital wards, nosing around 300 patients -- 30 with an infection and 270 controls. (His guide wasn’t told which patients were infected.) Cliff would sit or lie down when C. difficile was detected.

He correctly identified 25 of the 30 cases. Watch a really cute video of Cliff at work.

According to study researcher says Marije Bomers from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, dogs might ultimately help to reduce the onset of C. difficile by serving as routine "pet scans" that catch the first sign of an infection and halt an outbreak in its tracks.

It can take a couple days before a C. difficile infection is identified, allowing the bacteria to spread; sometimes whole wings need to be closed. And while recently developed tests have high diagnostic accuracy and short turnaround time, they’re expensive and require specialized equipment and expertise.

The work was published in BMJ last week.

[HealthDay via U.S. News]

Image of Cliff from BMJ

— By on December 17, 2012, 5:16 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure