Can dogs really sniff out C difficile?

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This was set in two large Dutch teaching hospitals and a two year old Beagle trained to identify the smell of C difficile was tested on 300 patients. 30 of those had C difficile and there were 270 controls. A dog was asked to walk around the wards with the trainer being unaware of which patients had C difficile. The dog was trained to sit or lie down when C difficile was detected. (BMJ 2012; 345:e7396)

Apparently the dog's sensitivity and specificity for identifying C difficile in stool samples were both 100%. The dog identified correctly 25 of the 30 cases and 265 of the 270 controls.

This appears a promising result but there are some limitations. Only one dog was used and this was in a hospital setting. When the dog was taken out to long term care facility wards, it was more difficult for the dog. There were also problems if the dog was offered a treat as this tended to cause distraction.

It appears that more research is required to see if a C difficile sniffer dog would be of use in hospital Trusts. I do feel very sorry for the dog as this can not be a pleasant activity and wonder could the dog catch C difficile.

I am very interested to see how this progresses and would be keen to hear from any veterinary clinicians who might have an opinion on whether a dog could catch C difficile in this way.

Patricia Wakeford

Associate - Clinical Negligence Team  

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