Published on Dec 14, 2012 by BMJmedia
Sniffer dogs are often seen in airports, but Cliff, the beagle from Amsterdam, is more at home in a hospital. Cliff has been trained to sniff out the bacteria clostridium difficile, which is highly infectious and can cause outbreaks of diarrhoea on the ward.
Scientists at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam studied how effective Cliff was, and found that he can sniff out Clostridium difficile infections in stool samples and even in the air surrounding patients in hospital with a very high degree of accuracy.
You can read the research behind Cliff on bmj.com – Using a dog’s superior olfactory sensitivity to identify Clostridium difficile in stools and patients: proof of principle study
He has 83pc success rate in sniffing out hospital superbug after only two months’ training
He is the hound of the hospital ward. Cliff, a two year old beagle with trademark floppy ears, has been trained to sniff out patients infected with a superbug and could potentially save hundreds of lives.
Instead of tracking hares, rabbits and other small game, Cliff puts his nostrils to work on the wards chasing down patients suffering from Clostridium Difficile, the hospital infection that can spread rapidly among the elderly causing lethal outbreaks.
Existing laboratory tests to diagnose the condition are expensive and slow and can delay the start of treatment by up to a week. Using a dog with a sensitive nose to patrol the wards and pick out infected patients is fast, efficient – and popular.
As a scent hound the Beagle has few equals – it can find a mouse in a one acre field in less than a minute. In tests, Cliff correctly identified 25 out of 30 patients with C Difficile – an 83 per cent success rate – and 265 out of 270 negative controls, after just two months training.
Unlike the lab technicians, he could screen a complete hospital ward in less than 10 minutes, strolling past each patient’s bed until he came to one with an infected occupant. Then he promptly sat down.
Despite his interest in their personal aroma, patients welcomed his visits. “He brings a lot of joy to the hospital. Patients love to see him,” said his owner.
The tests were carried out at two hospitals in Amsterdam which, in common with hospitals in the UK and around the world, have made strenuous efforts to reduce C Difficile rates. The infection occurs in older people who have been treated with antibiotics, disrupting the balance of bacteria in their gut and causing diarrhoea which in the worst cases can lead to bowel inflammation and death.
Major outbreaks in the UK at Stoke Mandeville and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells hospitals in the mid-2000s, and smaller outbreaks at other hospitals, have claimed hundreds of lives.
Details of Cliff’s performance are published in the British Medical Journal by Dutch researchers from the University Medical Centre in Amsterdam who say it holds “great potential” for screening hospitals for C Difficile.