Happy International Kissing Day – a day to celebrate the many health benefits of practising the fine art of the smooch!
But when it comes to kissing, choose carefully, because it turns out you can catch more than just feelings! Whilst kissing provides us with many health benefits, it can also transmit germs (bacteria and viruses) which can lead to disease. Without trying to ruin the mood, our private doctors at London Doctors Clinic are here to provide a guide to all the germs which can potentially be transmitted by kissing!
Kissing: How Are Germs Spread?
Some illnesses spread more easily than others, but the most common way of catching something from kissing is actually before your lips even make contact! When someone else is infected, they can either breathe out infected particles into the air (airborne spread), or they can cough or sneeze droplets to about a metre away from them (droplet spread).
If you breathe in the infected material, or come into contact with it and then touch your nose or your mouth, you could get infected. You can also catch diseases during kissing, from bacteria and viruses in saliva or blood (contact spread).
Conditions Caught From Kissing
1. Herpes Virus Infections
Several viruses make up the herpes virus family. These include Epstein-Barr virus, herpes simplex virus, cytomegalovirus and varicella-zoster virus (causes chicken pox). These viruses can be spread during kissing.
2. Glandular Fever/ Mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr virus)
Mononucleosis, caused by Epstein-Barr virus, is infamously known as ‘kissing disease’ because of how well it spreads through virus-containing saliva.
Despite its endearing name, the disease is rather unpleasant, causing intense fatigue, flu like symptoms including a sore throat, fever, weakness and swollen lymph glands.
It is most common in young people between 15 to 30 years of age and those who spend lots of time in close contact with other people. The disease and its symptoms often last between one or two months, and there is no specific treatment other than taking bed rest, drinking lots of fluids, eating well and taking over the counter medication to help with symptoms.
3. Cold Sores (Herpes-Simplex Virus)
Cold sores, often known as ‘fever blisters’ are usually caused by herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1), and are transmitted when an infected cold sore directly contacts a mucous membrane, or broken skin. It is estimated that over half of adults in the UK are infected with HSV1.
Another strain of HSV (HSV2) is usually associated with genital herpes (however, HSV1 probably causes 1 in 5 cases of genital herpes by oral sex).
Although cold sores are most infectious when open and leaking fluid, they can be infectious before symptoms even start and can even be spread by a quick peck. And whilst your make-out buddy might not, this virus unfortunately stays with you for life!
But it’s not all bad news – it usually only perks up every once in a while, often when your immune system is down. When the virus perks up, symptoms usually last ten days and involve burning, itching or tingling, sometimes accompanied by a sore throat, swollen glands or fever, followed by a cold sore which heals on its own. Some medications can speed up symptom resolution.
4. Warts (Human Papilloma Virus, HPV)
Warts are more likely to be spread during kissing if there is a break in the skin. That said, oral warts are pretty rare, and would take a fair amount of contact to transmit!
5. Respiratory Viruses
These include the common cold, influenza, mumps and many more and are usually spread by droplets. You’re likely to catch these before actually locking lips, but when getting close. If your kissing conquest has got the sniffles, it’s best to steer clear until the cold or flu has passed!
If your kissing conquest has got the sniffles, steer clear until the cold or flu has passed!
Flu can be spread from a day before, up until seven days after symptoms start. It causes a fever, cough, weakness, fatigue, body aches and a sore throat. Usually people get better in under two weeks, although preventing yourself from catching the condition is always going to be the preferable option!
7. Tooth Decay & Gum Disease
When kissing, you don’t just share saliva – you also share the flora of bacteria, viruses and mucus that live in your mouth!
Gum disease itself cannot be spread by kissing, but the ‘bad’ bacteria that cause it definitely can be – this is more likely to happen when your immune system of your mouth is compromised. These germs build up and form plaque, which can cause cavities or gum disease (gingivitis) when it builds up under your gum line.
The spread of ‘bad bacteria’ is more likely to occur if the natural immune system for your mouth is compromised. Your best bet at preventing this is to maintain good oral hygiene, by brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing before bed. This will prevent the bacteria from being able to grow in your mouth.
Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing before bed is important in preventing bacteria growth in your mouth
Both viruses and bacteria can cause meningitis (an inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord). Close contact with someone with viral meningitis, which spreads by respiratory secretions, could result in you getting the virus too, although it rarely turns into meningitis.
Viral meningitis is less severe than bacterial meningitis and usually people recover without medication. Bacterial meningitis, however is spread by close contact (such as kissing) – so if someone you’ve been in close contact with has been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, it might be worth you seeing a doctor too, to enquire as to whether you should take any medicines to reduce your risk of developing meningitis.
Symptoms of meningitis include a fever, headache, stiff neck, and nausea and vomiting. It is a serious condition for which immediate medical help should be sought.
Although most commonly transmitted by sex, syphilis can also be spread by kissing. This is because syphilis can cause round, open and infectious sores in the mouth. Syphilis can be treated by doctor-prescribed antibiotics.
Other STIs such as HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea are less likely to be spread by kissing (unless one of you have a cut or sore in your mouth). If you’re worried about sexual health, find out more information here.
However, It’s Not All Doom And Gloom…
Before you decide to give up kissing for life, remember to put things into perspective. There are valuable health benefits to passionate kissing, including:
- Stress reduction
- Emotional bonding
- Metabolic boost
As well as this, most kisses won’t cause disease – realistically, your chance of catching one of the above-mentioned nasties is pretty small!
Preventing The Transmission of Kissing-Conditions!
- Try not to kiss someone if you or they are sick
- Avoid kissing someone when they have a cold sore, wart or ulcer in or around their mouth
- Brush and floss your teeth well!
So, enjoy International Kissing Day! But remember, the next time you borrow a kiss, take a moment to think – because you could be left with something you can’t return! Should you happen to notice any unusual symptoms after locking lips, our private GPs are happy to help! For those feeling shy or embarrassed, we can assure you that our doctors will handle your issue with ultimate sensitivity and discretion. Simply book an appointment at your closest doctors surgery – we now have 12 located across London, so should never be too far away when you need to find a “clinic near me“.
By Ayala Shirazi