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December 19, 2018

Yes, it is possible to get an infection from sniffing smelly socks — but it's unlikely

A man in China ended up hospitalized with a lung infection from doing just that

Illness Infection
socks pexels Susanne Jutzeler/Pexels


You may have heard the breaking news story earlier this week about a man in China that, for whatever reason, smelled his dirty socks at the end of every day and ended up hospitalized for a lung infection.

Don't laugh, it could happen to you. Maybe.

As it turns out this seemingly harmless fetish could result in serious health issues if a potentially dangerous fungus develops in your footwear, as it so happened in this case. 

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University who was not involved with the Chinese man's case, told Live Science that developing a lung infection from whiffing socks is possible, but generally very unlikely. But the lack of details about the case in news reports, such as what kind of fungus caused the infection, makes Schaffner "kind of dubious to start with” though biologically it is possible.

RELATED READ: This all-in-one T-shirt self-deodorizes, locks in body heat and keeps you dry

Getting a lung infection from inhaling fungal spores is a well-known medical issue. For example, cave explorers run the risk of an infection called histoplasmosis, which is caused by inhaling fungal spores that can be found in bat droppings. Typically, though, humans are constantly surrounded by bacteria and fungus and don't always get stick.

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