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Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. Headshot

Can You Get HIV From Kissing?

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It's funny -- no matter how much information is out there on a subject, there are plenty of people who won't read it or even look at it, really. This isn't a bad thing, mind you -- there's only so much time and interest we all have. For instance, the St. Louis Cardinals recently won the World Series (and it was one heck of a series, too), and I'll bet there are tons of non-sports fans that don't know that (and don't care).

But it's not just sports -- it's anything. From not knowing who the vice president is to not knowing how HIV/AIDS is (and isn't) transmitted.

I've been thinking about this recently because (once again), as an NYC cosmetic dentist I was asked this question from my chair: "Does kissing cause AIDS?" It surprised me a bit, because there has been so much information about HIV published over the last decade or two, and it's also readily available. Just typing that question into Google will result in a myriad of links, most of them pretty credible (like the CDC that I'll link to in a bit -- by the way, all info from this post comes from the CDC [1]). Hence my little opening spiel regarding information and such.

But okay, to the question at hand: Can you get HIV/AIDS from kissing? Let's end the suspense right away and say "generally, no, you cannot."

There are several body fluids that can carry the HIV virus. The ones "everyday people" are likely to come into contact with are: blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. There are also other bodily fluids that can carry the virus that health care workers could come into contact with, such as the fluid around the spinal cord and the brain.

As you can see, saliva is nowhere in that list. There is not a high enough HIV concentration in saliva to pass along the virus.

That said, note that I used the word "generally" previously. There's a reason for that -- there HAVE been reports of HIV being transmitted during a deep "French" kiss. But, and this is important -- in all cases, bleeding was involved. In other words, it wasn't the kiss or the saliva -- it was infected blood being exchanged. So, if you or your partner have mouth sores, bleeding gums or something similar, and you are worried about HIV, don't deep kiss until there is no bleeding. That should keep you safe.

In addition to the above, HIV does not live well at all outside the body. So you're not catching HIV from a toilet seat, etc. Just have to throw that in to dispel that rumor.

Now sex... that's another story. As you can see by the above, both semen and vaginal fluid can carry the HIV virus. And both are fairly well-involved with sexual intercourse. That's why the term "safe sex" even came about -- sex is easily the most common way to transmit or "catch" HIV. And, despite the "homosexual sex leads to AIDS" hysteria that was rampant a decade or two ago, heterosexual sex with an infected person is just as dangerous. So having unprotected sex with an untested person can be risky.

Ok, let's leave sex behind and get back to kissing. I already stated that kissing (without blood present) will not lead to HIV infection. But how did it come about that kissing could lead to HIV? I guess it's because so many other viral illnesses are transmitted via saliva and vapor. Coughing and sneezing are big ones -- you can catch a cold or flu easily this way. And, of course, kissing. Heck, just being in a small room with someone with a bad cold can transmit the cold via viruses traveling through the air. Ever get a "doctor's waiting room" cold? I know I have. So we associate this type of transmission with HIV, and just assume that it's passed on the same way. But it isn't.

Nor is the HIV virus passed on in other minor contact, like handshakes, hugs or similar. Even getting bit by an HIV-infected person will likely not transmit the HIV virus, unless the biter had a mouth sore and blood to blood contact was initiated. And no, mosquitoes aren't transmitting the HIV virus either.

So to recap this, for a great number of us, the HIV virus is transferred via blood, or the common sexual fluids of semen and vaginal fluid. It's not really a "kissing" disease, or a coughing- or saliva-based infection. For those of you who were too young to remember the '80s and early '90s, there was a LOT of hysteria and misinformation out there regarding HIV, and some of that still lingers today. If you are interested, or just want more peace of mind than Dr. Connelly can give you, I encourage you to visit the link I posted with this post (here it is again: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/qa/transmission.htm), as it has some really good, credible information regarding HIV and how you can (and cannot) get it.

Until next time, keep smiling.

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