A trained dog detected nearly all cases of Clostridium difficile both in stool samples and in hospital patients infected with the bacterium, according to a recent study done at two Netherlands hospitals.
“C. difficile infection is common, particularly in people in healthcare facilities who have received antimicrobials,” the co-authors wrote. The infections can be mild to life-threatening, making early and rapid identification of C difficile infection important so infection control measures and treatment to prevent transmission can begin quickly, according to the co-authors.
C. difficile caused nearly 500,000 healthcare-associated infections in the U.S. in 2011, and 29,000 died within 30 days of the initial diagnosis, according to the CDC.
Keen sense of smell
The investigators, who work at the VU University Medical Centre and St. Lucas Andreas Hospital, both in Amsterdam, used a 2-year-old male beagle in the 2012 study. The dog was trained to use its sense of smell to detect C. difficile in stool samples and in patients.
The dog’s accuracy was tested on 50 stool samples with C. difficile and 50 without. The dog responded accurately to all 50 stool samples with the bacteria and 47 of the 50 samples without the bacteria.
The researchers also evaluated the dog’s detection abilities in 30 patients with the infection and 270 control patients among two hospitals. The dog correctly identified 25 of the 30 cases of patients with the infection and 265 of the 270 controls.
Based on the results, the co-authors wrote, “It is feasible to use a dog to detect Clostridium difficile in stool samples and in patients.”
“Dogs are quick and efficient: patients in a hospital ward can be screened for the presence of C. difficile infection in less than 10 minutes,” they wrote.
The co-authors acknowledged the study had limitations due to the sample size, and also noted different dog and trainer pairings could have different results.
They concluded: “This finding could have great potential for screening for C. difficile infection in healthcare facilities and thus contribute to the control and prevention of outbreaks.”