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24th Apr 2023

Experts warn STI ‘can be spread by kissing’ and ‘guidance should be changed’

Charlie Herbert

Kissing could spread STI gonnorhoea

‘We think it is possible to catch gonorrhoea via kissing’

A new study has suggested that gonorrhoea could be spread through kissing, leading to calls for guidelines over the sexually transmitted infection (STI) to be updated.

For decades, it has been believed that gonorrhoea couldn’t be spread through snogging but this new study appears to suggest otherwise.

A team of researchers in Australia reviewed six studies that looked at whether tongue kissing was a risk factor in spreading gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

They concluded that kissing did increase the risk of becoming infected with gonorrhoea but not with chlamydia.

Professor Eric Chow, of the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, told MailOnline: “We think it is possible to catch gonorrhoea via kissing.

“I think the guidelines should be updated.”

Saliva needs to be exchanged between individuals for the increased risk to exist according to Chow, so the kiss needs to be a bit more than a little peck.

In their review, the scientist and his colleagues wrote in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections: “A number of pieces of evidence suggest transmission from the oropharynx [back of the throat] may be more common than previously thought.

“[The bacteria] can be cultured from saliva, suggesting that the exchange of saliva between individuals may potentially transmit gonorrhoea.”

Exchanging saliva could increase the risk of contracting gonorrhoea (iStock)

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) said gonorrhoea is primarily passed through unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex.

It added that the STD being passed through kissing is “very uncommon,” although there may be cases where it has happened.

BASHH said in a statement: “New research into the transmission of STIs is important for our understanding of how they spread and, in this instance, how the transmission risk of gonorrhoea may be reduced.

“Gonorrhoea is primarily passed through unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Whilst there may be cases where it has passed from mouth to mouth through kissing, this is probably very uncommon.

“This research highlights the importance for individuals to get tested regularly, especially after condomless sex with a new or casual partner. It remains essential for everyone to have access to high quality sexual health services to help keep you and your sexual partners safe.”

According to the NHS, gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial STI in the UK, after chlamydia, with more than 70,000 people diagnosed with the infection in 2019.

Most cases of the infection affect gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

It can be prevented by using contraception such as condoms during sex. The NHS also advises either to not share sex toys, or to wash them and cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them, to avoid the risk of spreading gonorrhoea.

The infection is treated with a single antibiotic injection and with effective treatment, symptoms should improve within a few days.

One or two weeks after treatment, patients are advised to attend a follow-up appointment to check if they are clear of infection.

The NHS adds: “You should avoid having sex until you have been told you no longer have the infection.

“Previous successful treatment for gonorrhoea does not make you immune to catching it again.”

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