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Trained Beagle Sniffs Out Troublesome Hospital Infection
Date:12/14/2012

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- In the ongoing battle to control in-hospital bacterial infections, Dutch researchers think they may have come up with a secret weapon: a dog named Cliff.

Turns out that, when properly trained, a dog's highly honed and superior sense of smell can be effectively harnessed to sniff out early signs of a common but problematic infection known as Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile.

Exhibit A: Cliff, a 2-year old beagle who has already demonstrated a remarkable ability to diagnose infections simply by nosing around patients and their stool samples.

"C. difficile can cause an infection of the bowel, ranging from mild symptoms of diarrhea to severe illness," explained study author Dr. Marije Bomers, an internist at the VU University Medical Centre, in Amsterdam. "The bacterium mostly affects older patients in a hospital or health care facility after the use of antibiotics, since antibiotics disturb the normal balance of bacteria present in our bowel."

"Once a patient has a C. difficile bowel infection, the infection can spread to other patients on the same ward," Bomers noted, stressing the importance of prompt identification followed by patient quarantine to prevent spread. "However, in reality it can take a couple of days before a C. difficile infection is identified, allowing the bacteria to spread and infect more patients."

In the Dec. 13 online edition of the journal BMJ, Bomers's team reported on its unconventional new approach.

"In this research project we've trained a beagle called Cliff to identify the smell of C. difficile and subsequently tested its skills," she said. "It turned out that [spotting infections] was not that difficult for the dog."

Since 2000, infection outbreaks -- particularly in the United States and Canada -- have grown in frequency and size, ofte
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