We've heard of bomb sniffing dogs and drug-sniffing dogs, but a dog that can detect potentially deadly hospital bacteria? That's where Angus comes in. The English Springer is Canada's first certified bacteria-sniffing pooch, visiting two Ottawa's hospitals this week.

When Angus goes to work, he puts his nose to the grindstone, or the railing, the floor, the chair; wherever invisible spores of C. difficile may be lurking in hospital hallways.

His trainer, Teresa Zurberg, knows all too well how important that "work" is.  Six years ago, she contracted Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, while in a B.C. hospital recovering from an infected wound in her leg.  She had been given antibiotics to deal with the infection which killed off the good bacteria in her intestines, letting the C. difficile she may have picked up in the hospital take hold.    

“I almost died,” says Zurberg, “In one week, I lost almost 20 pounds.”

We can have C. difficile in our bodies without experiencing any problems.  In fact, about 7% of us do but if you're elderly, undergoing chemotherapy or have other illnesses, it can be deadly.  It’s one of the most common causes of hospital diarrhea.

Infection rates have been going down in hospitals as infection control measures have increased; disinfecting surfaces, washing hands and more judicious use of antibiotics.

The Ottawa Hospital added a new purchase just last month to fight C. difficile and other hospital “bugs.”  The UVC is an ultraviolet disinfection machine that is used to reduce transmission of major superbugs, including C-difficile.  The machine ranges in price from $65,000 to $100,000.

“We're always keen to look for innovative ways and tools to help us provide a clean and safe environment for our patients,” says Melanie Hendereson, the Director of patient support at The Ottawa Hospital.

Angus is one more tool and a cute one, too, who spent half this week at the Ottawa Hospital and the other half at the Queensway-Carleton, sniffing into cracks and crevices looking for germs.

“We found some sightings in our patient lounge,” says Keith Sopha, the Manager of Environmental Services at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital, “We have control over teaching and monitoring of our staff with hand washing,” he says, “but we don't have as much control over patients' visitors so there's an area we will increase our cleaning and disinfection on a routine basis.”

Angus found about 20 alerts at each hospital, allowing them to concentrate on areas they perhaps hadn't considered before. 

“C. difficile is a very hardy spore,” says Sopha, “It is hard to clean and disinfect and we spend a lot of effort to control not just that microorganism but others.”

That's the next step for Angus and the other dogs now being trained: expand their sniff to the other hospital bugs out there.

“We're limited by our imagination,” says Teresa Zurberg, “If it has an odor, we can train a dog to find it.”