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Observations placeholder

Oliver Sacks - Herpes simplex damage



Type of Spiritual Experience


Number of hallucinations: 1


A description of the experience

Oliver Sacks – Hallucinations

….. the herpes simplex virus, … can attack nerves (including sometimes the olfactory nerves), both impairing and stimulating them. The virus can remain dormant for long periods, sequestered in nerve ganglia, and suddenly re-emerge at intervals of months or years.

One man, a microbiologist, wrote to me:

 "In the summer of 2006,I began to smell things  a faint pervasive odour that I could not identify (my best guess was . . . wet cardboard)."

Prior to this”, he said “I had a highly sensitive nose, and was able to identify my laboratory cultures by smell alone, or subtle differences in organic solvents, or faint perfumes

He soon developed a constant hallucination of the smell of rotting fish, which faded only after a year had passed, along with most of his olfactory acuity and the subtlety of most foods.  He wrote:

Certain odours are completely gone - faeces(!), baking bread, or cookies, roasting turkey, garbage, roses, the fresh soil smell of Streptomyces . . all gone. I miss the smells of Thanksgiving, but not the smell of public toilets”.

The dysosmia and phantosmia were due to a re-emergence of the herpes simplex 2 which he had contracted many years before, and he is intrigued that these are always preceded by hallucinatory smells. He writes,

"I smell the onset of herpes reactivation. A day or two prior to the onset of a neuritis episode, I again have olfactory hallucinations of the last strong smell I noticed. This smell persists during the neuritis and fades as the neuritis fades. . . . The strength of the hallucinations is correlated with the severity of the generalized neuritis".

The source of the experience

Sacks, Oliver

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Herpes simplex


Anosmia [loss of sense of smell]