Most of the commonly known sexually transmitted infections are contracted through the exchange of genital fluids or direct sexual contact.

However, there are a few which can be spread through kissing and through some other form of contact that involves the exchange of fluids in the mouth and contact with sores that may be there. A good number of times, even the patients do not realise that they have a problem.

When they do realise that they do, however, it does not occur to many of them that such problems can be transmitted through kissing. When we refer above to the exchange of fluids in the mouth, it does not mean that one person pours saliva into the mouth of another; rather it means that once contact occurs between one mouth and another, it is accepted that an exchange of fluids has taken place. The same dictum operates when sex is considered.

Many of these sexually transmitted infections do not cause any real disturbances and so it is possible to be unaware of their existence. On the other hand, they may cause symptoms that are so mild that they are often overlooked. As symptoms are mild so can the signs be mild so that doctors who are not specialists in the nature of such infections could also miss the diagnosis and offer treatment that does not benefit the patient.

Another group of doctors who can treat these infections are the skin specialists, called dermatologists. It is said that there are more than 25 infections that can be spread through sexual contact and while most of these infections are spread by contact with genital fluids and sores, a few can be transmitted through oral sex. In most healthy people, kissing is considered a low-risk sexual activity but it is an increasingly popular engagement amongst Nigerians such that the scope of these infections here may be underestimated.

Some of these infections will be discussed below in no particular order. However, it is important  to note that there is also a certain amount of misconception regarding which of these infections can be transmitted by kissing. It has been considered expedient to answer those questions through this essay rather than do so individually because of the similarity between them. Some of these infections which are not transmissible through kissing are gonorrhea; pubic lice; Chlamydia; chancroid and HIV/AIDS.

The latter may be a surprise to many but it is important to qualify it. HIV/AIDS cannot be contracted from saliva so that normal kissing with the mouth closed is not likely to be able to propagate the disease.

If, however, both kissing partners have open wounds in their mouths or sores or either one has blood in the mouth from bleeding gums and either one of them is HIV positive then it becomes possible to transmit the infection from kissing. That risk is similar in that regard to hepatitis B and C.

Common sexually transmitted infections which are obtainable from kissing are such conditions as syphilis caused by a type of bacteria that is called Treponema pallidum. It can spread through direct contact with a syphilis sore which can develop in the mouth, the lips or the genitals.

The symptoms become more severe as the disease progresses and can even spread to an unborn baby if the mother has the infection. Someone who has syphilis can develop a fever, get tired easily and have swollen lymph nodes. As time goes by, such a person could have a sore throat, headache and weight loss. In most cases, however, the disease is characterised by the formation of round, firm and painless sores called chancre which heal on their own in three to six weeks.

Without treatment, the disease will reappear after some time as reddish or brown rash on the palms or soles of the feet or both but will not itch. It is a highly contagious disease which is also curable.

Another common infection which can be transmitted by kissing is herpes, which has two sub-types called Herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes simplex type 2 HSV-2).

These viruses cause lifelong infections which often come and go and can be identified by their formation of sores, ulcers or painful blisters in the mouth and around it. These sores are called cold sores and they can transmit infection even when there are no symptoms. They are most contagious, however, when they are painful and during this period, anyone who has got such sores can avoid spreading it by not kissing someone else.

The practice of proper mouth hygiene is also important in the general effort to prevent infection and limit its spread.

People who have the HSV-1 do not require treatment as such and can manage their condition and can use over-the-counter medicines to treat themselves in addition to practising good oral hygiene. In infections with HSV-2, antiviral medications are prescribed to reduce the risk of developing symptoms and propagating the infection.

The other troublesome infection is the human papilloma virus (HPV) which has several types and often responsible for causing cancer later in life. Most people will overcome the infection within two years and in rare cases, it is possible to transmit it through infected saliva or some other oral contact. The most common way to get it, however, is by direct genital contact. The virus can infect the mouth and throat and cause cancers of the base of the tongue and the oropharynx. It is believed by health experts that as many as 70 per cent of all cases of similar cancers are caused by HPV in the United States. The common features of such a cancer in the throat are persistent hoarseness of the voice, a persistent sore throat and weight loss than cannot be explained. There may also be an earache, pain when swallowing and swollen lymph nodes around the head and neck area of the body.

The other common sexually transmitted infection is the one spread by cytomegalovirus, which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids including blood, breast milk, tears and semen. In babies and younger children, it can also spread through the urine and saliva such that it is estimated to have affected as many as 1 in 3 children in the United States before they reach the age of five years. In many healthy people, an intact immune system usually prevents CMV from causing serious infection.

In newborns who can get the infection from their mothers, there may be jaundice at birth and they could develop hearing loss, impaired physical growth and problems later in life that could affect certain organs of the body including the liver, spleen, the lungs and the brain.

The infection is a lifelong one with no cure. The infection can experience occasional flare-ups but never goes completely. And while most patients who have it will not require any treatment, those with reduced immunity and newborns may be given antiviral medications to prevent complications.


@ Punch Newspaper

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