As it turns out, humans emit a certain odor when infected with disease. Though our olfactory senses are not developed enough to detect it, studies conducted with rodents show that even people who live with someone who is infected will give off a certain odor. Nose doctors in Amherst have yet to use this for any clinical ends, but they are hopeful that this information could teach the medical world more about how contagious diseases spread.
Why Would Diseases Produce Odors?
Even though humans are not nearly as in touch with their olfaction as rodents are, they can detect a wide range of scents. Even if you don’t consciously register the decision, you’re less likely to sit next to someone on the bus, for instance, who has a cold simply because he’s sick.
It’s likely that people developed an intuitive sense for the scent of diseases for evolutionary purposes. Historically speaking, if people are to live successfully in communities, it’s important that they learn to quarantine anyone who has an illness so that it doesn’t spread to the rest of the society.
Scientists have already used canine olfaction to detect early signs of ovarian cancer. More recently, scientists used mice to see how diseases can affect the odor of people who share a living space. Stephanie Gervasi, the lead author in the study, injected lipopolysaccharide, a non-contagious toxin that produces inflammation, into a group of healthy mice and kept them in the same cage as healthy mice.
Biosensor mice, mice who had been trained to identify the urine of the infected rodents, had a hard time distinguishing between the two mice even when they had been kept separated by a divider in the same cage.
What Does This Mean for Nose Doctors in Amherst?
Nose doctors in Amherst, unlike rodents, have a much harder time identifying diseases purely by scent. Instead, they have to judge based on a patient’s symptoms and bloodwork. If scientists could develop a way to identify the presence of a disease based on its scent, physicians might be able to spot dangerous diseases in their early stages when they’re still easily treatable.
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