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


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