Odors surround us, providing cues about many aspects of personal identity, including health status. Now, research from the Monell Center extends the scope and significance of personal odors as a source of information about an individual’s health. A new paper in the open-access journal Scientific Reports reveals that the bodily odors of otherwise healthy animals sharing an environment with sick animals become like the odors of the sick animals.
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.
“Exposure to the odors of sick individuals may trigger protective or preparative responses in their social partners to minimize the risk of impending infection,” said study lead author Stephanie Gervasi, Ph.D., a Monell chemical ecologist.