Sniffing Out C. Diff
Meet Cliff, a beagle who can do a very interesting trick. In a recent news briefing, some canines like Cliff the Beagle have reportedly been specially trained to detect Clostridum difficile (C. diff), a highly contagious infection in healthcare facilities. Dogs have outdone themselves as man’s best friend for years, sniffing out people for search and rescue teams, sniffing out illicit substances for the police and apparently now sniffing out diseases for doctors -- as the DarkDaily briefing puts it, “See Cliff sniff C. diff!”
A group of researchers from Amsterdam’s Vrije University Medical Center, having “successfully used the trained beagle to detect the smell of C. difficile in hospitals,” believe that trained dogs like Cliff have the potential to provide a “cheap and effective way to conduct routine C.diff screenings in hospitals.” According to the article, the idea for disease-detecting canines came from a specialist who noticed that even the human laboratory personnel picked up on the infection’s distinct smell. From there, it became a question of how quickly the dogs could pick up the scent.
“In order to try to prevent transmission in your hospital,” began researcher Marije Bomers, MD, lead author of the study. “It’s important to recognize C. diffpatients as early as possible.”
Cliff the Beagle proved particularly successful, detecting C. diff from the “air surrounding patients in hospitals." The release later noted tests with both samples and patients, in which Cliff the Beagle “correctly identified 47 out of 50 negative samples” (a 100 percent sensitivity rate and a 94 percent specificity rate), “25 out of 30 infected patients,” and “correctly identified no infection in 265 out of 270 patients without the disease.” All of the patient identification tests were done “in just ten minutes” as Cliff went through the hospital wards.
Although there is skepticism regarding the use of trained dogs for diagnostics purposes -- with professionals like Bruce E. Hirsch, MD, who reasonably question the efficiency of a trained canine “in a large hospital setting where there are many distractions” -- the canines in this diagnostic study were cited as a reason Clinical Laboratory managers and pathologists can expect 4-legged additions to the team at testing facilities. Despite being in the early stages of testing, the concept of using dogs for diagnostics purposes -- similar to the way police use drug dogs -- is intriguing, even in applications beyond the detection of C. diff. As the DarkDaily briefing later noted, “On the other hand, [Hirsch] thinks the research is worth pursuing and pondered the potential for dogs to detect a broader range of diseases.”