Smells Like the Flu!

Smells Like the Flu!

Author: Meghan Campbell

Mammalian cells produce odor compounds in response to viral infection. Cristina E. Davis and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, USA, discovered that mammalian cells emit a specific set of “smells” upon being infected with influenza viruses. These odors are primarily composed of volatile organic compounds, which can be detected by using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

Specifically, circulating B-cells from our immune system are capable of producing chemical odors that appear after viral infection. Most of these compounds are specific to the strain of influenza, and they appear on a distinct time course post-infection. In some cases the researchers were able to detect flu just 6–8 hours after infection. Several of these chemicals appear to be generic influenza biomarkers.

This breakthrough may allow researchers to monitor for flu-associated compounds in exhaled human breath as an asymptomatic measure of viral infection—at a stage earlier than present clinical methods. It also appears that some of the compounds detected may be strain-specific, which could allow for further identification of the new infection.


Also of Interest

SARS-CoV-2 VirusCollection: SARS-CoV-2 Virus

What we know about the coronavirus and COVID-19



  1. Dr Mugdha

    I was always curious about this. As every time I have a viral infection and as it gets better I would keep getting a peculiar distinct odour for myself through my breath or sweat or I don’t know from where .. and there have been different odors each time dome times some repeated. At times it was like vegetables rotting or like algae or fungus . During covid it was more like strong odor of pulses being cooked . After covid it was mostly like strong garlic and onion or occasionally like the gutter or like urine or stool. Whatever it was each time they left me so nauseated

  2. Freedom Truong

    At first, I thought Chick-Fil-A changed their ingredient in the batter. Then the odor become more distinctive when I noticed it was appearing after inhaling or exhaling after any food. Acidic food made it more noticeable. To me, it was almost as if I took a swig of acetone and metalloid together and it was repulsive. It me very very nauseous. I currently have the flu and I initially thought the odor was a side effect of the medication (Oseltamivir and Ibuprofen) however, I mentioned it happened at other times as well.

  3. Jada Williams

    Oh my god I am eating Chick-fil-A a noticed it too! I started to get better and thought what the heck I’ll finally treat myself to a meal. Wow

  4. Carla A Stensland

    My husband releases a foul smell every time he is sick. I think he sweats it out. Our whole bedroom reeks and I can’t stand to go in there. He currently has Influenza A… and I do too actually, but I am staying in a spare bedroom because I can’t stand that smell!

  5. Rich

    I always notice a distinct odor in my sweat whenever I have a fever. It doesn’t smell like normal B.O. but more like an almost alkaline/ammonia smell mixed with B.O. Kind of like old urine. It permeates everything like clothing and bedding and is disgusting. I literally have to change my bedding everyday when I am sick.

  6. Brittney

    I currently have influenza A and my husband says I smell like soup- like chicken noodle soup or chicken ramen…it doesn’t matter how often I shower or scrub, I smell like soap and chicken soup.

  7. Karen Williams

    I am currently sick with flu and I am experiencing smelly palms. No matter how many times I wash my hands, they smell like a sweet dirty sock. I had Covid 2 years ago an experienced a similar smell. This resulting smell now helps me identify if I am sick with a virus. Thanks for the explanation of why this odor occurs when I am infected with a virus.

  8. Bija

    I currently have influenza B and I have the most nastiest smell in my nose like acetone like a nail polish remover. It’s the worst smell.

  9. Maxine Warris-Tuffnell

    Im currently suffering with flu and when I blow my nose the smell is unreal. It’s like rotting veg smell. Really dirty

  10. Jessica

    I currently have the flu (going on day 4) and wake up multiple times during the night drenched in sweat. And I don’t even know how to describe the smell. It’s a very weird smell. Reminds me of that “hospital smell”. Can’t wait to get over this.

  11. Jonny

    I’m on day 4 of the flu and my fever finally broke. My wife said the entire back half of the house smelled like the meat sweats while I was in bed fighting the fever. The whole bed was smelly and disgusting. I am currently washing everything in hopes of getting rid of that foul odor. Ugh.

  12. Jonny

    That’s a great description of the smell. “hospital smell”. It’s terrible. I’ll be so glad to be healthy again. I wish the same for you!

  13. Domino T.

    I have the flu now for the second time within the month. The first time it was like all I could smell was mold everywhere, really musty. And the taste in my mouth was really metallic and salty, like freakishly salty. Now, again, this second time, same exact thing. So weird.

  14. April

    I am getting over influenza A and I still have a lot of thick nasal drainage. There’s a strange ammonia like smell in my nostrils. I wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with the flu but after reading some of the comments it seems that this is likely a symptom of the flu.

  15. Angel

    I think i had a terrible influenza for a week now, and started with migraines for few days after painkillers and paracetamol it started to breakdown but also breaking down my bones, had terrible bond ache, and since yesterday I’m experiencing a combination of acetone and ammonia like smell in many food, specially acidic food and the smell is crazy when it comes to vinegar

  16. Christopher Hunt

    I had a very high fever a couple days ago and yesterday my sweat was so gross smelling. I had almost pure liquid diarrhea the whole day after the fever and my sweat smelled like wet dog and the sweat that came the day after was rank and I have no descriptor for that smell. I had eaten some bad meat the day the fever hit me. The fever was bad enough to make me delirious. Very weird.

  17. Janira

    I just got over something feeling like allergies/flu. Had bad headache, itchy throat , fever for a day and body aches. Now my underarm BO is intense. Everything smells bad to me. All I can do to feel better is to stay hydrated.


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