Are You Okay? You Smell Like Cytokines.

The Huffington Post:

Nurses and hospice workers say they can smell the final approach of death. Not with sudden death, but with the slow march toward the grave, the body’s systems begin to shut down and metabolism changes, so that breath and skin and fluids give off a distinctive odor that signals the end is near.

This is not surprising. In fact it’s more perplexing that deadly diseases don’t announce their presence earlier. From an evolutionary perspective, it would be more advantageous if we could all detect early warning signals, olfactory cues that the immune system is gearing up to ward off a new and threatening disease. Psychological scientists call this the behavioral immune response. The idea is that the healthy would have a better chance of surviving an epidemic if they could identify its first victims — while they are still looking well — and steer clear. Unfortunately, those early churnings of the immune system are far too subtle to detect.

Or maybe not. Scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, working with colleagues at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, are reporting the first evidence that disease not only smells but can be detected in chemical cues of the body’s frontline immune response. The team, led by Mats Olsson, wanted to test the idea that humans can perceive a difference between the body odors of healthy and sick people. And, assuming that such a sickness cue has evolved to lessen contamination risk, they wanted to see if they could detect such a cue in the early stages of the body’s sickness response. Here’s how they ran the test.

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

Wray Herbert is an author and award-winning journalist who writes two popular blogs for APS, We’re Only Human and Full Frontal Psychology. Follow Wray on Twitter @wrayherbert.

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