Can You Get Sexually Transmitted Diseases From Kissing?

Most sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are spread through contact with genital fluids or sores. But a few can also be passed through kissing, including herpes and syphilis.

These diseases include HSV types 1 and 2, cytomegalovirus and — very rarely — syphilis. But most STIs only spread through unprotected sexual contact.

Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1)

Genital herpes is a very common sexually transmitted disease that occurs when a person has the herpes simplex virus type 1 or HSV-1. This herpes virus can cause painful sores that resemble pimples and may take a week or more to heal. During the first outbreak, herpes sores can also cause flu-like symptoms such as swollen glands or fever.

HSV-1 can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person’s saliva, even without open sores or lesions. It is also possible to get herpes from kissing, using the same eating utensils, or sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes. People who have a weakened immune system, such as people with HIV or those taking immunosuppressant drugs to treat an autoimmune disease or organ transplant, are more susceptible to herpes infections.

HSV-2 is usually transmitted through the vagina or vulva. However, it can be spread through the mouth when a person who has HSV-1 in their oral cavity gives someone oral sex. It can also be spread by kissing or using a dental dam during oral sex. Symptoms of herpes include sores in the mouth and on the tongue, lips, or throat. A person can also have ocular herpes, which affects the eyes and may cause blindness, or neurogenic herpes, which can lead to nerve damage in the brain.

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Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2)

Herpes simplex virus, or HSV-1 and HSV-2, can cause cold sores and blisters in the mouth and genital area. These viruses are highly contagious. They can spread from skin-to-skin contact, including kissing and oral sex. The herpes virus can also get into a person’s body through tiny cuts, burns, rashes, or other sores. A mother infected with herpes can pass the infection to her baby during vaginal birth if the blisters are active at that time.

Herpes is more common among sexually active teens and adults. It’s most often transmitted by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex, especially with someone who has the virus and doesn’t use condoms or dental dams for oral sex. But it can also spread through kissing, using the same eating utensils or toothbrushes, and sharing personal items.

It’s less likely to get herpes from sitting on a toilet seat, but it’s still possible. The herpes virus doesn’t live long outside the body, so it’s difficult to contract from a dry inanimate object.

A person can also get herpes by having an infected urethra (urinary tract). This infection is usually harmless, but it can cause a painful urinary tract infection. If a person is immunocompromised, herpes can lead to serious complications, such as meningitis or encephalitis.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that can infect people of all ages. It’s similar to the viruses that cause chickenpox and infectious mononucleosis. It’s more serious for people with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS or those receiving chemotherapy. Most people who have CMV don’t experience any symptoms or illness, but it can lead to problems with the eyes and ears for some, including those with AIDS.

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You can get CMV through direct contact with an infected person’s body fluids, such as saliva (spit), tears, breast milk, urine (pee) and semen. It’s most commonly spread through close contact at home, but it can also be spread in child care centers or preschools, where adults often work closely with young children.

CMV can be passed from an infected mother to her fetus during pregnancy or at birth, which increases the risk of complications such as hearing loss and vision loss. You can also get it through blood transfusions and organ transplants from a donor who is infected with CMV.

Most STIs aren’t transmitted through kissing, but some can, including herpes simplex and genital herpes. You can reduce your risk by being open about sexual activity and having a direct, transparent conversation with your partner. This will help avoid misunderstandings and prevent the transmission of disease.

Syphilis

Syphilis is the most serious of all STDs and can cause a variety of health problems including genital warts, blindness, rashes on the palms of your hands, and even damage to your heart and brain. It’s not usually spread through kissing, but if you or your partner has visible sores in the mouth (called chancres) and you engage in deep (open-mouth) kissing it can spread the infection.

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It’s more common to get syphilis from vaginal or anal sex, but it can also be transmitted through oral and front hole sex. It’s very rare for it to be spread through casual contact such as sharing food or drinks, hugging, holding hands, coughing or sneezing, or sitting on toilet seats.

In the first stage of syphilis, a smooth sore develops in your mouth or on your genitals that may resemble a pimple. The sores then go away in a few weeks. After the sores clear, the disease enters a latent phase where the infection causes no symptoms. It can be hard to know if you have syphilis at this point, so using condoms every time you’re in close contact with someone is important.

If you or your partner doesn’t receive treatment for syphilis and it progresses to the fourth and final stage, you will experience severe health complications. These can include paralysis of the limbs, loss of vision, hearing and speech, and changes to your heart and aorta (the large blood vessel that connects to your heart). It’s also very likely you will become mentally ill and possibly become paralyzed.

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