Fetch, Roll Over, Diagnose

Laura Blue reports on a beagle trained "to sniff out deadly pathogens that plague hospitals":

Doctors spent two months training a two-year-old beagle named Cliff to learn to lie down or sit whenever he smelled the presence of Clostridium difficile, stubborn bacteria that cause severe, hard-to-treat diarrhea and sometimes life-threatening colitis. Cases of C. difficile have reached historical highs in recent years, claiming 14,000 lives in the U.S. each year, primarily in hospital or long-term care settings. Reporting in the BMJ, the researchers say the hound accurately detected C. diff in nearly all of 50 stool samples, and accurately did not respond to another 50 samples that were negative for the bacteria.

That success justified testing Cliff’s sense of smell around patients in a hospital, and indeed he correctly identified 25 of 30 people who were sick with the infection, and also identified 265 of 270 who were not sick – a remarkable rate of accuracy for a diagnostic tool that’s almost instantaneous and completely non-invasive.