Washington: Know someone sick? Your own smell might give it away.
Research from the Monell Center extends the scope and significance of personal odors as a source of information about an individual’s health. The findings suggest that odor cues associated with sickness can cause biological changes in healthy individuals, potentially impacting social contacts and perhaps even patterns of disease spread.
Lead author Stephanie Gervasi said, “Exposure to the odours of sick individuals may trigger protective or preparative responses in their social partners to minimise the risk of impending infection.”
Researchers injected mice with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a non-infectious bacterial toxin that causes inflammation, activation of the immune system, and other symptoms associated with sickness. The LPS-injected “sick” animals were then housed in the same cages as healthy animals.
Results from bioassays using “sniffer” mice trained to differentiate between urine odors from LPS-injected and healthy animals indicated that healthy partners of sick animals smelled more like sick, as compared to healthy, animals.
The combined findings reveal that body odors of healthy animals can change in the presence of odor-based sickness signals.
Senior author Gary Beauchamp said, “This work shows not only that odors signal disease but that they can have strong effects on individuals that detect them.”
The full findings are present in the journal Scientific Reports.