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You Can Actually Smell Someone Who Is Sick


"...might also open up doors for understanding how infectious diseases can be contained."

The idea of sniffing out an illness isn't necessarily new; some scientists think dogs are able to smell cancer. A new study found humans might be able to smell someone who could be sick as well.

nose Being able to smell an immune response, triggered due to an illness, might help people subconsciously stay away from someone who is contagious. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Researchers injected eight healthy people with either a toxin that would trigger their immune system to kick in or a control saline solution. Each person wore a T-shirt for four hours. They then had 40 other people smell and rate the worn T-shirts, which likely had absorbed some amount of sweat.

The study, "The Scent of Disease: Human Body Odor Contains an Early Chemosensory Cue of Sickness" published in the journal Psychological Science, found the T-shirts worn by those injected by the toxins were more likely to be rated as having a bad or unhealthy smell.

"This chemosensory detection of the early innate immune response in humans represents the first experimental evidence that disease smells and supports the notion of a 'behavioral immune response' that protects healthy individuals from sick ones by altering patterns of interpersonal contact," the authors wrote in the study abstract.

Lead researcher Mats Olsson with the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden said in a statement about the research that the study could support "early, possibly generic, biomarkers for illness in the form of volatile substances coming from the body."

What's more, being able to pick up on these smells and have an averse reaction to them might be a way people avoid others with a potentially contagious illnesses.

Further research is needed to identify the compounds emitting these smells, but the Association for Psychological Science's news release about the study noted that its findings "grants us a better understanding of the social cues of sickness, and might also open up doors for understanding how infectious diseases can be contained."

Featured image via Shutterstock.

(H/T: Reddit)

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