Meet Cliff, the remarkable super-sniffing dog who detects hospital superbugs



19:32 GMT, 13 December 2012

Most dogs get excited when they sniff out a juicy bone. But Cliff, a two-year-old Beagle, shows enthusiasm for a far more unusual reason.

The perceptive pooch has been trained to sniff out the hospital superbug Clostridium difficile in patients, with great success.

/12/13/article-2247688-16809217000005DC-140_634x485.jpg” width=”634″ height=”485″ alt=”Cliff the Beagle, in a special luminous vest, has sniffed out C.Difficile with super accuracy” class=”blkBorder” />

Cliff the Beagle, in a special luminous vest, has sniffed out C.Difficile with super accuracy

Given that some experienced nurses can detect it, the researchers reasoned it could be even easier for dogs, due to their heightened 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.

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.

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.

Dr Marije Bomers, 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

'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 C diff outbreaks.

In a study, published in the online journal, the Dutch team wrote: 'It is feasible to use a dog to detect Clostridium difficile in stool samples and in patients.

He's got the bug: Cliff enjoys the challenge of sniffing out C.Diff

He's got the bug: Cliff enjoys the challenge of sniffing out C.Diff

'The dog's diagnostic accuracy with
stool samples suggests that immediate identification of C difficile is
possible. Moreover, our data suggest that the same may be true for the
rapid diagnosis of C difficile infection on clinical wards.

'For the purposes of detection, the dog did not need a stool sample or physical contact with patients.

'It would seem dogs can detect C
difficile in the air surrounding patients. In addition, dogs are quick
and efficient: patients in a hospital ward can be screened for the
presence of C difficile infection in less than 10 minutes.'

The researchers did admit that the study
has limitations and said that using a dog as a diagnostic tool is not
'fully predictable'.

But there's no doubting Cliff's enthusiasm for the task, which is shared by his father Ralph.

Primarily a police sniffer dog, he also enjoys sniffing out the superbug

'It was not the intention to train
him in this, because he is a 'crime scene' sniffer dog, but
he trains at home spontaneously along with Cliff,' said Dr Bomers.

C diff is the most commonly diagnosed bacterial cause of infectious hospital-acquired diarrhoea in developed countries.

It can cause diarrhoea ranging from mild symptoms to a very severe illness and can be fatal.

Certain groups of people are
particularly at risk of developing C diff. These include the elderly,
those who have recently had surgery, and people with serious underlying

The bacterium can be transmitted through either personal contact or the environment.