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Infection Control & Patient Safety

Dogs Detect C. Diff

Published December 21, 2012 9:55 AM by Barbara Smith

Most of us are familiar with animal therapy programs. These animals - usually dogs - are brought into adult day care centers, nursing homes, acute care hospitals and rehab facilities. When first introduced, many nurses were skeptical but studies have found that contact with animals can lower blood pressure and help with pain relief. Contact with animals increases our oxytocin levels, which makes us feel happy.

But not only can dogs make us feel happy, they can help detect bed bugs. If you live in the northeast, I bet most of you have seen the "Roscoe" commercial - an adorable beagle trained to detect bed bugs. It's estimated that a well-trained dog can detect a single live bug or egg with 96% accuracy.

Now, researchers from the Netherlands have taken the use of a dog a step further. They trained a dog to detect cases of C. difficile through smell. Using a reward system, the researchers trained the dogs with known positive stool specimens compared to proven negative specimens. Apparently, dogs have a much keener sense of smell than humans. (Though nurses have told me they too can "smell" that the diarrhea smells like C. diff). What is remarkable was that the dogs were 100% accurate in detecting the positive stool specimens in the laboratory and correctly identified 25 of 30 actual patients when brought to the hospital ward.

The dogs were also accurate in detecting the negative cases.

I'm not sure how this can help but the article in the British Medical Journal suggests the dogs may be useful in surveillance rounds by detecting cases more quickly. Some studies estimate there can be a 2 to 7 day delay in diagnosing and treating patients with C. diff. This time lapse means there is potential for environmental contamination.

Another role may be for screening in day care facilities where diagnostic testing is less available.

So if you see a dog at work, please ask before petting - he may be working.

posted by Barbara Smith

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    Occupation: Infection Control Professionals
    Setting: Welch Allyn; St. Luke’s Hospital (Smith)
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