updated 1/3/2013 4:20:37 PM ET 2013-01-03T21:20:37

It's not unusual to see beagles in airports, sniffing suitcases for potential explosives. But hospitals?

At two Dutch hospitals, yes. After two months of training, a beagle detected the presence of Clostridium difficile, a bacteria that can cause severe diarrhea and colitis in 25 out of 30 patients. The dog also correctly identified 265 out of 270 people who were not sick in the study published in BMJ.

An increasing number of patients die from C. difficile in the United States -- about 14,000 each year, usually in hospital or long-term care settings, according to Time Magazine. Most the patients are frail or immune-suppressed.

SEE ALSO: Dogs, Rodents May Prevent Future Epidemics

Study author Dr. Marjie Bomers and her colleagues came up with the dog-as-doctor idea when they heard a nurse talking about the unique smell of C. difficile diarrhea.

"We thought, 'Hey, if a human nose can recognize C. difficile with reasonable accuracy, a dog should be able to do it easily, since they have such an amazing sense of smell,'" Bomers told Time.

Other methods of detecting the bacteria are available, but they're not as quick or as cheap. Bomers hopes that dogs could eventually provide a first scan of facilities with high rates of C. difficile, which could help health care providers contain the infection.

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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