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.


  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


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