Morning Team Discusses "Germy" Kiss Research
The Germy Truth About Kissing
Locking lips can both help and harm your health. Read up before you pucker up.
By Kristen Stewart
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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The human mouth contains more bacteria than there are people on the planet (that’s close to 7 billion). Talk about a mouthful! But should the threat of germs stop you from smooching? Not necessarily.
Read on for the good, the bad, and the ugly of kissing germs.
Sure, mouth germs may sound like a turnoff, but keep it in perspective. Germs exist throughout our bodies, not to mention all over the environment around us. And germs aren’t all bad.
“A good proportion of the body is full of germs, and we have a symbiotic relationship with most of them,” says Amesh Adalja, MD, an instructor in the division of infectious diseases and an associate in the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Bacteria help metabolize certain substances in the mouth, for example. In other organ systems, bacteria are responsible for breaking down food and synthesizing vitamins, among many other functions.”
Thanks to swapping those germs, kissing happens to offer some health benefits. The flow of saliva can make for healthier teeth and gums, and exposure to someone else’s germs actually strengthens the immune system.
On the emotional front, the plus side of kissing ranges from relationship bonding to stress reduction as the brain releases neurotransmitters. Finally, kissing burns calories — the more intense the make-out session, the better.
While the health benefits of locking lips are sound, kissing can still facilitate the transfer of not-so-nice germs. There’s the chance that kissing someone who’s sick will make you sick, too.
Illnesses and bacteria are spread several ways — from inhaling infected droplets in the air after a sick person coughs or sneezes to touching a contaminated surface then touching your eyes or nose and, yes, kissing.
It doesn’t help that one of the biggest days of the year for kissing falls right in the middle of cold and flu season. “Mid-February is usually the peak season for infectious diseases, such as the seasonal and H1N1 flu, mononucleosis, colds and coughs,” Jorge Parada, MD, medical director, infectious disease at Loyola University Health System said in a release.
How do you think mononucleosis, caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, got its moniker? It’s called “the kissing disease” for the way it’s so easily spread. Other consequences of kissing that could land you at the doctor’s office include strep throat, mumps, measles, and pertussis, better known as whopping cough.
A case of the sniffles isn’t the worst thing you can catch from locking lips. Read up on the more serious, and visible, viruses.
- Herpes. This family of viruses includes everything from varicella zoster, which causes chickenpox, to the energy-zapping Epstein-Barr virus to cold sores (aka herpes simplex).
- Hepatitis B.Although it’s more contagious with blood exposure, hepatitis B can also be passed through saliva, especially when open mouth sores are involved.
- Warts.Mouth warts do exist, and they’re contagious through kissing.
Bottom line: Keep on kissing! There’s no need to skip a good smooch for fear of germs, says Dr. Adalja, unless the person you want to kiss is clearly ill. In which case, the coughing and sniffles will have hopefully turned you off before you move in too close. If you’re the one who’s feeling sick, spread love bynotspreading your germs.
Video: A Big, Bacterial Smooch - Science on the Web #90
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