Updated 30 April 2015

Stop kissing everyone on the mouth!

At family get-togethers, there’s always a line-up of uncles, aunts and second cousins twice removed waiting to plant a big, wet kiss on your lips. But if you only knew how many germs lurk in one kiss . . .


Yes, family time is kissing time, but health-wise you'd be much better off if you offered your cheek or settled for a friendly handshake.

The herpes virus

If you're handing kisses out to all you come across, you could end up with a cold sore. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (type l), which is most commonly transmitted by saliva. It takes three days to a week after that kiss for the cold sore to develop in or around your mouth. The bad news is once the herpes virus is in your system, it's there to stay, remaining dormant until activated again and a new cold sore forms.

Read: Cold sores

Factors that can activate cold sores include stress, sunlight, trauma and illness, says Vicky Gowar, an oral hygienist and the spokesperson for the dental group IVOdent.

Kissing can also spread the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever – also called infective mononucleosis. If you're unlucky enough to kiss someone with glandular fever, the most common symptoms you may experience later are fever, an extremely sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

“Once the symptoms have cleared up you could still be a carrier of the virus,” Rustenburg general practitioner Dr Anne Rothman says. "You could infect others with glandular fever for weeks or months afterwards.”

Virus targets the liver

Summer is not the best time to get a cold so steer clear of sneezing relatives. Sharing a kiss is the perfect way to contract an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold.

Although blood carries higher levels of the hepatitis B virus than saliva, the condition can still be transmitted by kissing. “This virus targets the liver,” Dr Rothman says, and symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and fever.

Read: How to avoid hepatitis

Periodontitis (gum disease) can also be transmitted by saliva. Symptoms include smooth, bright red and swollen gums. You gums may also feel soft and bleed when you brush your teeth.

Lastly, Gowar warns against German measles (also known as rubella). You could become infected if you inhale some droplets when an infected person coughs or even talks. Kissing someone with German measles will definitely put you at risk of infection. If you've been immunised you should be fairly safe but it's still worth being careful as the immunisation doesn’t provide 100 per cent protection.

“Pregnant women should be careful, especially during the first three months. German measles could cause the baby to develop abnormalities such as deafness.”

The art of the offered cheek

Don't feel obliged kiss every single friend or family member who crosses your path, says etiquette expert Anne Dreyer, “Kissing is each person's personal choice. It's acceptable to offer your cheek or shake hands.” Dreyer says time for over-kissers to realise nowadays people can choose whether or not they want to kissed. “I simply refuse or offer my cheek. If that doesn't work, I develop a fake cold on the spot, claiming a no-kissing policy so as not to infect anyone.”

Your opinion

Do you sometimes want to avoid kissing people on the lips? Tell us how you do it.

Read more:

A kiss transfers 80 million germs

An STI from a French kiss

Lead poisoning from a kiss?

Image: No kissing from Shutterstock


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