Kissing is a great way to spread germs!Ancient Egyptians kissed with their noses. Eskimos, Polynesians and Malaysians still do. Why?
The Tsonga people of southern Africa find pressing two person's lips against each other repulsive, “They eat each other’s saliva and dirt!” And during the swine-flu scare, the French put a ban on what they call ‘la bise’.
Do they all know something about germs that we don’t?
During any exchange of bodily fluids there is a risk of transmitting infectious agents. However, the body has defense systems in place to prevent infection. When we kiss, our tongues are covered with little bumps called papillae that feature 9,000 to 10,000 taste buds designed expressly to react with foreign substances. Luckily, they are also covered with saliva.
Saliva contains powerful antibacterial chemicals that kill most bacteria before the germs from a kiss are passed on. Some dentists say that extra saliva helps prevent tooth decay. Scientists even agree that a little smooching does stimulate the flow of salvia that eliminates acid coating on teeth.
But no one ever got a sick day from built up plaque. What about transmitting something like Mono? After all, it has been called kissing disease.
“Mono certainly can be spread by kissing,” says Dr. Todd Zimmerman, Director Of EmergiKids at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network. “However,” he adds, “a small kiss on the lips will not necessarily spread Mono.”
Dr. Zimmerman points out that the sharing of saliva, i.e. heavy kissing, sharing utensils or even sharing a cup or glass with someone that is infected increases the chances significantly of spreading EBV (ebstein barr virus), the actual mono virus. But mono, like many other infections, can also be transmitted by other means, such as coughing or sneezing.
So is kissing worse than shaking hands? Again, Dr. Zimmerman puts it in good perspective. “I think the message is that both can spread germs, and one should be aware that kissing and shaking hands can spread germs, and that proper and frequent hand washing is essential to maintain your healthy lifestyle.”
Would you still want to kiss someone with the flu? Aside from the fact that the other person might not be looking their best, some viruses may be a little too potent for your front-line defense of spit. A really bad flu may be one of them. Many other viral infections such as a herpes simplex virus are easily transmitted by kissing. And Hepatitis A can also be transmitted through saliva.
However, many more life-altering diseases have not been found to be transmitted through a simple locking of lips. HIV is rarely (if ever) transmitted through kissing; when it does occur it probably relates to open sores in the mouth that allow exposure to blood, not just saliva. Hepatitis B and C and are not typically transmitted through routine kissing as well.
Maybe the best advice comes from Ann Lucey, a RM MS and Infection Preventionist from the Patient Safety & Quality, Infection Control at St. Alexius Medical Center. "A little common sense should go a long way," she says.
"My three grandchildren (pre-school age and younger) resemble Petri dishes this winter and I’ve been practicing blowing kisses from a safe distance to avoid getting sick. Even so, it’s hard to resist those sloppy wet kisses. But, as an Infection Control Nurse I frequently remind and assist them with their respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene." Her advice is to kiss often but sensibly.
So is kissing really that dangerous?
Well maybe so if you take in account some strange laws still on the books. In Indiana, it is illegal for a man with a moustache to "habitually kiss human beings". And in Hartford, CT, it is illegal for a man to kiss his wife on a Sunday. And if you like a little public display of affection, don’t do it in Indonesia. Kissing in public there can invite a ten-year jail sentence.