We've seen different types of working dogs – police dogs, detection dogs, search and rescue dogs, herding dogs and therapy dogs, to name but a few – but we don't often find working dogs who sniff out infections.
Angus, an English Springer Spaniel, was trained by his owner to sniff out Clostridium difficile, a potentially lethal infection commonly referred to as C. diff.
Teresa Zurburg, Angus' owner, picked up the C. diff bacterium and experienced what it was like to suffer from the infection. Once she was well, she decided to teach Angus to detect the bacterium, and now Angus finds it in places hospital staff wouldn't even think of looking.
C. diff can be a deadly bacterium if you become infected and symptoms are left untreated. It is easily spread by hand-to-hand contact and is shed in faeces.
A tricky characteristic of the bacterium, though, is that it can grow in your body when you're taking antibiotics for a different ailment, infection or illness – like Zurburg, who was taking antibiotics for a wound on her leg.
If you are infected with the bacterium, symptoms you may experience are a fever, watery diarrhoea, nausea and stomach cramps. Complications that could arise if you are infected with the bacterium are:
- Pseudomembranous colitis, also referred to as antibiotic-associated colitis, an inflammation and infection of the colon.
- Toxic megacolon, an abnormal expansion of the colon. This condition is rare, but is potentially life-threatening.
- Gastrointestinal perforation, which is the formation of a hole in any part of the gastrointestinal tract – e.g. your oesophagus, stomach, small intestine or large intestine. Having a hole in any part of your gastrointestinal tract could lead to peritonitis, which is the inflammation of the thin tissue (peritoneum) that lines your abdomen and covers organs in your abdomen. This condition, if left untreated, can also be lethal.
- Sepsis, also known as septicaemia or blood poisoning. This is when bacteria infiltrates the blood stream, causing inflammation throughout the body. This condition, too, is lethal if left untreated.
Those who have had a C. diff infection may be at higher risk of experiencing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A recent study at the University of Perugia Medical School in Italy confirmed that there is a high occurrence of IBS after C. Diff infection.
Researchers believe that the higher risk of developing IBS following a C. Diff infection is due to the disturbance or impairment of a network of cells in the gut, leading to incorrect functionality.