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Snuggle up and sniff out infection

By Lorraine Graves

Published 2:39 PDT, Fri October 25, 2019

Two cuddly puppies will join infection control forces in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, which includes Richmond. 

These pups journeyed from Trenton, Utah to join their mentors, Angus and Dodger, Canada’s top C. difficile detection dogs. 

The bacteria C. difficile, according Dr. Claire Fraser, the internationally-renowned speaker at Genome BC’s Don Rix lecture on Oct. 24, lives in most of our guts. It is when antibiotics kill off the healthy bugs, this weed of a bacterium takes over the microbiome. It’s much like a bare patch of lawn that lets dandelions and buttercup take over. Antibiotics can save lives, but when overused can leave people devoid of the healthy bugs on their skin and in their organs that we depend on. 

Also, people who don’t have strong immune systems have trouble fighting off C. diff. which causes uncontrollable diarrhea. That in turn can lead to debilitating loss of weight and health. In some cases, C. diff kills.  

Dogs’ sense of smell is incredibly sensitive. Just as law enforcement uses canines to sniff out illegal drugs, Vancouver Coastal Health now uses Angus and Dodger to find people and places where C. diff lingers. It means the person can be isolated and staff can take special precautions to prevent the bug from spreading to others with compromised microbiomes. It also means specialized cleaning can prevent cross contamination from laundry, rags, mops, lunch trays or hands. 

While it is becoming clearer that healthy mice and humans don’t stay healthy when raised in an environment that is too sterile, hand washing is vital around sick people to keep them from getting sick and to keep us from catching anything. 

In an announcement, laden with wonderful pooch puns, Vancouver Coastal’s Carrie Stefanson says, “It takes a special breed to thrive in a busy health care environment. (We) are pawsitively thrilled to announce two English Springer spaniels are on the rookie list to join the C. Difficile Canine Scent Detection Program.” 

Mentioning the two dogs already in service, BC Health Minister Adrian Dix says “our province is a safer place for patients and families thanks to Angus and Dodger’s special talents and keen sense of smell.”

“These new pups will learn how to prevent the spread and infection of C. difficile in health care facilities and we are grateful for this innovative approach to protecting the public,” he says.

The health authority wants your help. While one of the pups, the spunky black and white female, has a name—Traveller, her brother who is described as “just as cute” needs a name. Besides sniffing out C. diff, he loves sticks and cuddles. 

Stefanson says its judges pawed through the submissions and narrowed the list to four. 

• Olaf, for the olfactory sense (smell)

• Clouseau after Inspector Clouseau the comic French detective who sniffed out clues.

• Finn, because American fictional character Huck Finn was a curious explorer.

• Magnum, in honour of the US TV Show Magnum PI about a private investigator.  

In the health authority’s own words, “Everyone has a chance to vote on their favourite name.  No need to lineup or bring a voting card, just go to www.vghfoundation.ca/vote to register your top pick. The winning name will be announced in early November.”

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