London, Dec 14 (IANS) Cliff, a two-year-old Beagle, can instantly sniff out Clostridium difficile, a superbug that infects the gut, causing diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, loss of appetite, fever, and weight loss.
Cliff's sniffing prowess was first put to the test on bug infested stool samples, which give off a distinct odour. When experienced nurses can detect it, researchers reasoned dogs could do it better, because of a sharper sense of smell.
After two months of training at VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, Cliff was able to correctly identify all 50 samples from infected patients and 47 out of 50 negative samples, the journal BMJ.com reported.
And his impressive work didn't stop there.
On one hospital visit he was able to sniff out 25 out of 30 infected patients simply by smelling the air around their beds, while correctly deducing that 265 out of 270 patients did not carry the infection, according to the Daily Mail.
When he detects a patient with the superbug, he sits by the patient's bed to alert doctor. Those who are passed by are deemed by Cliff not to be infected. But the hardest part, say the researchers, is getting him to sit still.
Marije Bomers, a doctor who helped train Cliff, said: "We go into all the rooms, and it is intended that Cliff quietly sits by the bed of patients who are infected. But this is the most difficult thing for him to do as he gets very excited when he smells Clostridium."
Now, on the back of this success, the Dutch researchers suggest that more animals could be trained to screen hospital wards in an effort to prevent Clostridium difficile outbreaks.