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Kissing concerns

“My friend say he got hepatitis from kissing someone. Is kissing no longer safe?”

Kissing is still very safe. However, there is a small chance you could pick something up by kissing someone with an infection. So there are common sense rules you should follow — easy guidelines you are most likely already adhering to anyway.

Let’s start with the first part of this question — catching hepatitis from kissing. Hepatitis is a grab-bag term meaning inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by many things including medications, drinking alcohol, gallstones and viruses. Hepatitis A virus usually enters through the mouth and exits in your feces. Like HIV, hepatitis B, C, and D are transmitted only through blood and infected body fluids (not spit), so they are not an issue with kissing unless the person is bleeding from the face or mouth.

You may get hepatitis from a person infected with hepatitis A if he doesn’t wash his hands after making doody (or you are kissing his bum and not his face). Get the vaccine (two shots six months apart) like all gay men should and forget about it altogether.

Much more common infections you can catch from kissing are ones you see everywhere already — influenza and the common cold. These viruses are transmitted through coughing, sneezing and nasal secretions (aka snot). I don’t need to tell you not to kiss someone who is sick with a cold or flu.

Mononucleosis (“mono”) is a viral infection transmitted through saliva causing fever, sore throat and fatigue. It has been labelled “the kissing disease” for this very reason and is often ascribed to teenagers, but anyone at any age can catch it. Strep throat, a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics, causes the same symptoms and can also be spread by saliva. Don’t kiss someone with these symptoms; they usually are not hard to spot because they feel — and look — like hell.

Cold sores (the herpes virus) are very common recurrent infections transmitted through contact with lesions that break out on the face and lips. If someone is developing or getting over a cold sore, don’t touch. (A significant percentage of the population suffers from cold sores. Contrary to some people’s opinion you cannot catch more of the virus — you either have it or you don’t.) Incidentally, canker sores (“chancres”) are lesions most people get in their mouths that are very painful but actually not infectious.

So now that you are probably never going to kiss anyone again out of fear of catching these infections, let me reassure you again that kissing is very safe. Most people out there are not carrying active infections and that alone makes it safe.

To add an extra level of reassurance, get vaccinated against the flu and hepatitis A, and never kiss someone who has facial/lip lesions, is bleeding, or is sick with fever or cold. As I said in the beginning, these are things you are most likely doing anyway. So suck face to your heart’s content!