Angus y Dodger, los perros que cazan superbacterias en un hospital de Canadá
Man’s best friend, bacteria’s worst enemy: dog sniffs out superbug in Canadian hospital

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Por Daniel Gallas

Estos springer spaniels ingleses, tradicionales perros de caza, están específicamente entrenados para detectar la notoria superbacteriaClostridium difficile.

Dicha bacteria ataca a las personas cuyo sistema inmunitario ha sido debilitado por los antibióticos y causa una diarrea infecciosa potencialmente letal.

Pero desde el verano pasado Angus ya encontró a la temida bacteria en un centenar de lugares distintos del Hospital General de Vancouver, donde trabaja.

En una ocasión Angus, que tiene dos años, detectó C difficile en los pantalones vaqueros de un paciente que había llegado con diarrea al hospital y al que le estaban dando el alta.

En marzo de este año el perro terminó con éxito su período de prueba y otro spaniel, Dodger, se unió a su equipo.

Una casualidad y una idea loca que se hizo realidad

Hace tres años la residente de Vancouver Teresa Zurberg, sufrió una infección por C difficile que casi la mata: la dejó cinco días ingresada en el hospital y le hizo perder nueve kilos.

Su marido, un enfermero que trabaja en seguridad sanitaria, le comentó por casualidad que había leído un artículo sobre un perro de raza beagle que había sido entrenado en Holanda para detectar a la superbacteria en los pacientes.

Teresa, cuya profesión precisamente era entrenar perros para detectar drogas y explosivos, pensó que si la superbacteria tenía algún olor ella podría entrenarlos para identificarlo.

Y así fue como le presentaron la idea a las autoridades sanitarias de la región, Vancouver Coastal Health, donde decidieron probar el plan con un programa piloto.

Un problema global y un círculo vicioso

Las infecciones por C difficile son un problema en hospitales de todo el mundo y representan un círculo vicioso que hace que los pacientes tengan que prolongar su estadía en el hospital y así aumente el riesgo de nuevas infecciones.

Según Vancouver Coastal Health en Canadá el 64% de todos los casos de C Difficile son adquiridos en hospitales, y un 28% son adquiridos en la comunidad.

La superbacteria vive en materia fecal que permanece en las habitaciones de los hospitales incluso después de la limpieza. La gente puede infectarse al tocar superficies contaminadas y después llevarse las manos a la boca.

Los trabajadores del hospital también pueden propagarla entre los pacientes si contaminan sus manos.

Normalmente en los hospitales se usa luz ultravioleta para encontrar C difficile, pero Angus y Dodger pueden hacer el proceso de detección mucho más rápido.

Cuando el perro percibe la presencia de la bacteria un robot que utiliza luz ultravioleta desinfecta la zona, con un 99,9% de eficacia.

El entrenamiento para detectar la superbacteria es el mismo que para oler otras sustancias. Teresa Zurberg tardó 10 meses en entrenar a Angus, que empezó a trabajar en el hospital en verano de 2016, cuatro días a la semana.

El proyecto con Angus atrajo la atención de muchos países, como Finlandia o Chile, que se interesaron por el modelo.

Ahora Zurberg planea entrenar a otros perros que puedan ser utilizados en otros hospitales del mundo.

English

By Daniel Gallas

Angus the English springer spaniel is believed to be only canine hospital employee in the world trained to sniff out notorious bacteria Clostridium difficile

Hospital ID badge dangling from his neck, Angus considered the empty bed in front of him. After a few strong sniffs, he moved on.

Nearing the next bed, his floppy ears perked up before he stopped dead in his tracks, tapping his paw and eyeing his handler expectantly.

The two-year-old English springer spaniel is believed to be the only canine hospital employee in the world trained to sniff out the notorious superbug Clostridium difficile, or C difficile.

The seeds of Angus’ unlikely career were planted three years ago, after Teresa Zurberg, a Vancouver resident, suffered a C difficile infection. Her bout with the bacteria – which attacks people whose immune systems have been weakened by antibiotics – left her in the hospital for five days and she lost 20 pounds.

Her husband, Markus, a nurse who works in patient safety and quality care, stumbled across an article on a beagle in the Netherlands who had been specially trained to check patients for C difficile.

Could Zurberg – a canine handler who trains bomb- and drug-detecting dogs – do the same thing in Vancouver? he wondered. “I told him, ‘If it’s got a smell, I can teach a dog to find it,’” Zurberg said. Their new English springer spaniel pup might be perfect for the job, she suggested.

The pair approached Vancouver Coastal Health, the health authority that oversees the city’s general hospital – and were surprised by the enthusiastic reaction they received. “I was expecting them to laugh at us but they were like: ‘Hey, that’s really cool.’”

Working with the health authority, Zurberg and Angus became part of a one-of-a-kind pilot program. The hope, said Nancy Desrosiers of Vancouver Coastal Health, was to find an innovative approach to address what has become a global concern.

“It really is one of those vicious cycles,” she said, pointing to a steadily rising number of infections that result in longer hospital stays and increase the likelihood of further infections. “In Canada, 64% of all of our C difficile cases are hospital-acquired.”

Unlike the patient-sniffing beagle in the Netherlands – who is now retired – Angus, it was decided, would focus exclusively on searching for C difficile in the hospital environment.

Hospitals normally use ultraviolet light to find the bacteria, but Angus can move much more quickly and efficiently through rooms. Once he detects the bacteria, the area is cleaned with a robot that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect 99.9% of the C difficile spores.

The decision to have him work on environments rather than patients minimised the chances of Angus triggering patients who may have allergies or sensitivities to dogs.

With the dog’s role in the hospital now clearly laid out, Zurberg began training Angus, mimicking the techniques used to train dogs to detect bombs or drugs.

“All of the detection work for the dogs, it’s just a game. To them, it’s just a way to get what they really want, which is their toy or their food, depending on what they’re rewarded with.”

As she taught him to associate the scent with a food reward, researchers from the hospital kept her stocked with a steady supply of the scent of C difficile – isolated from the bug – on cotton swabs.

The training took about 10 months. After passing a series of detection tests in a local nursing college with mock patient wards, Angus was brought into the hospital this summer.

Easily excitable when he’s not focused on work, Angus is accompanied by Zurberg at all times during the four days a week he spends at the hospital.

“It’s a very multi-ethnic health authority and I have to be really conscious of who’s around me and what issues they may have with dogs,” she said. “That’s part of the reason we chose a floppy-eared dog as opposed to a pointy-eared dog, because he’s not so intimidating-looking.”