VANCOUVER, BC – You would be barking up the wrong tree if you thought Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) knew everything there is to know about infection control. In fact, VCH’s infection fighting team is learning a lot from an unlikely source – Angus, a two-and-a-half-year-old English springer spaniel who is trained to detect Clostridium difficile or C. difficile, a superbug that attacks people whose immune systems have been weakened by antibiotics.
“Since Angus started working in the hospital, we’ve been learning a lot from him and this innovative new approach to detecting C. difficile,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “As a formerly practicing veterinarian, I’m not surprised to hear how well Angus has been doing. He is a welcome addition to the VCH infection control team.”
Angus has spent the last few months working full time at Vancouver General Hospital. The friendly, feisty infection-fighter has been well received by patients and staff. “The integration of Angus into a busy health care environment has been seamless,” says Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, Head of Infection Control, Vancouver Coastal Health. “Angus has provided us with a whole new window for identifying reservoirs of C. difficile that we hadn’t identified in the past.”
For example, Angus has detected C. difficile in discarded pieces of furniture and outdated medical equipment. “As a result, we now know there’s a correlation between clutter and C. difficile, at least at Vancouver General Hospital,” says Teresa Zurberg, Angus’ owner and handler. “This is something Angus taught us, and we’re able to respond appropriately.
While Angus would like you to think it’s all about him, it’s not. He’s part of larger K9 Infection Prevention Team that involves clinicians, housekeeping staff and a second dog, Dodger. Like Angus, Dodger (aka Roger Dodger), is a springer spaniel with superb detection abilities. Dodger is getting acclimatized to the hospital and is in the early stages of training to detect C. difficile.
Finding reservoirs of C. difficile is crucial to eradicating the superbug. Once the bacterium is detected, the area or patient room is cleaned, often with a state-of-the-art ultraviolet-C light disinfecting robot that removes 99.9% of the C.diff spores. VGH has three light disinfecting robots, known as “R-D” (Rapid Disinfector). Since Angus came on the scene, “R-D” has been busier than ever. “We are currently one of the top users of UV disinfection in North America,” says Dr. Elizabeth Bryce. “We are better able to utilize UV disinfection where it is most needed after Angus detects C. difficile in the environment.”
Vancouver Coastal Health has implemented a number of measures to combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms and has won national and international awards for this innovative work. It was the first health authority in Canada to utilize ultraviolet light to supplement the disinfection process and the first to tag and barcode clean equipment to ensure routine inspections and maintenance are performed. Vancouver Coastal Health also participates in voluntary as well as mandatory provincial surveillance programs.
Vancouver Coastal Health spends more than $3.2 billion annually and is responsible for delivering health services to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Anna Marie D’Angelo
Senior Media Relations Office
Vancouver Coastal Health