4 Diseases Sealed with a Kiss

By Sam LaRose

Red lips kissing boothKissed anyone lately? Mononucleosis (better known as mono) may be the king of “kissing diseases,” but other orally transmitted diseases are no joke. Bacterial meningitis, herpes simplex-1 and cytomegalovirus can all spread through saliva. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself (and any teenagers under your roof).

Mononucleosis

Mono is a disease spread by the exchange of saliva. The illness is directly caused by what is known as the Epstein-Barr virus. The most common way mono spreads is through kissing.

Symptoms of mono can remain dormant anywhere from 4-6 weeks after contracting the illness. Symptoms may include fever, pain and rashes; all of which have over-the-counter medications available to help alleviate their presence.

“Diagnosis of infectious mononucleosis can be difficult due to varying presentations of symptoms and similarity to other illnesses,” said Charles Letizia, MPH, Public Health Epidemiologist with Mission Health. “Infection may result in only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.”

Bacterial Meningitis

One of most prominent diseases spread orally is bacterial meningitis. “Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain called the meninges that is caused by a bacterial infection,” said Letizia. This disease has a large number of severe consequences such as paralysis, strokes, seizures and sepsis. “Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency that can possibly lead to death,” Letizia stated.

In February 2019, Macon County Public Health Department confirmed one death caused by meningococcal disease. [1]

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis may include experiencing a high fever, a severe headache or a stiff neck. Patients can often also experience nausea, vomiting, confusion, sensitivity to bright light and a rash featuring purple discoloration. In younger children, specifically toddlers under 2 and newborn babies, a lack of interest in eating and lasting irritability can be signs of bacterial meningitis.

While meningitis will typically be either bacterial or viral, a fungi form of the disease also exists.

Cytomegalovirus

With a name that long, you might expect for this virus to pack a powerful punch. Cytomegalovirus (or CMV) can have more profound effects on certain people, specifically in those with weaker immune systems, such as those who have cancer or AIDS. However, most people with developed and healthy immune systems rarely experience issues.

CMV can be spread through saliva, infected blood products and sexual contact with an infected person. Infected mothers can transmit it to her child during birth and when breastfeeding. CMV can also be transmitted through any type of organ transplant or blood transfusions.

Herpes Simplex-1

While there are several variations of the herpes virus, Herpes Simplex Virus-1 (or HSV-1) typically results in oral herpes. Some of the symptoms of HSV-1 might ring a bell – cold sores, fever blisters and possible eye infections. However, there are some symptoms that you might not know, such as fever, sore throat or swollen glands in your neck or other parts of the body.

HSV-1 can be transmitted when an infected person comes into contact with an uninfected person, when kissing or sharing utensils. Oral sex can also spread HSV-1.

There is no cure for the virus. Once you contract HSV-1 it remains dormant until triggers like stress, illness, cosmetic surgery or sun exposure activate the virus.

Protecting Yourself from Kissing Diseases

The best way to avoid kissing diseases is to avoid someone else’s saliva. Avoid sharing cups, utensils, lip balms and toothbrushes. Avoid kissing loved ones if they are sick or if they have an active cold sore.

“The overall risk of transmitting diseases by kissing is small,” said Letizia. “That said, you might want to be picky about who you kiss!”


Charles Letizia, MPH, Public Health Epidemiologist with Mission Health.

Learn more about promoting personal health and wellness by helping prevent the spread of infection at missionhealth.org/infectionprevention [2].