Out of the doghouse and on the road detecting C. difficile

Angus takes a road trip

Vancouver Coastal Health’s four-legged infection fighter took a road-trip to showcase his C. difficile detection abilities.

Angus, a three-year-old English springer spaniel, and his trainer, Teresa Zurberg, visited Kelowna General Hospital on March 12th. Angus used his ultra-sensitive detection device – his nose – to seek out C. difficile spores in the hospital environment.

Angus searched common and clinical areas and patient units when patients were not present. Angus and Teresa have also visited Lions Gate Hospital and Richmond Hospital.

We’re excited about the opportunity to share our knowledge and expertise with our health care colleagues across the province. Since Angus started working at VGH in 2016, we have learned a tremendous amount about the presence and eradication of C. difficile in health care settings.” Teresa Zurberg, Trainer.

The nose knows

Angus is trained to detect Clostridium difficile or C. difficile, a superbug that attacks people whose immune systems have been weakened by antibiotics. He and a second dog—Dodger—are part of the C. difficile canine scent detection team that includes an Infection Control Practitioner and housekeeping staff, all dedicated to reducing environmental contamination of C. difficile (CDI). This results in a reduction in the transmission of C. difficile by healthcare workers, visitors and patients, and, in turn, a decrease in the CDI infection rate. The good news—it’s working. The nose clearly knows where to find bacteria!

Pawsitive results

Vancouver Coastal Health has recorded a decrease in the number of hospital acquired C. difficile cases since Angus began sniffing out C. difficile infection at VGH.  Hospital acquired cases of CDI  went from 5.9 per 10,000 inpatient days in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015-2016 to 3.4 in the second quarter of 2017-2018.

We can’t give Angus all of the credit for the turnaround, but he has played a significant role in reducing our CDI rate.” Allison Muniak, Executive Director Patient Care Quality and Safety and Infection Control. 

“I know how serious C. difficile can be because I nearly died from it,” says Teresa Zurberg. “To know that Angus, and now Dodger, are playing a key role in preventing other people from contracting this potentially life-altering infection is very rewarding.”

Dogs and robots at VGH

Finding reservoirs of C. difficile is crucial to eradicating the superbug. Once the bacterium is detected by Angus or Dodger at VGH, the area or patient room is cleaned, often with a state-of-the-art ultraviolet-C light disinfecting robot that removes 99.9% of the spores. VGH has three light disinfecting robots, known as “R-D” (Rapid Disinfector). Since the dogs were let out of the doghouse and into the hospital, VGH has become better at targeting the disinfection to where it is needed the most.

In the Intensive Care Unit, we work hard to prevent the spread of infection by isolating patients, washing our hands and working with environmental services to keep the unit clean. By having Angus come through the ICU is an innovative and exciting way to discover new places that C. difficile might be lingering on surfaces.”Jackson Lam, Patient Services Manager, Vancouver Coastal Health.

Vancouver Coastal Health has implemented a number of measures to combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms and has won national and international awards for this innovative work. It was the first health authority in Canada to utilize ultraviolet light to supplement the disinfection process and the first to tag and barcode clean equipment to ensure routine inspections and maintenance are performed. VCH also participates in voluntary as well as mandatory provincial surveillance programs.

However, there is a downside to having to having two trained C. difficile detection dogs at VGH. “Everyone wants to pet Angus,” says Jackson Lam. “We have to respect that he is a working dog and not touch him, as handsome a dog that he is!