Researchers in Melbourne have found it may be possible to spread gonorrhoea through deep kissing (“French kissing”, or kissing with tongues) rather than just through sexual contact as previously assumed.
The findings were published overnight in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, with researchers saying it’s extra important as gonorrhoea continues to spread and becomes more resistant to treatment.
Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacteria and is spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex.
Symptoms usually develop within two weeks of a person becoming infected, and are characterised by a coloured discharge from the genitalia, pain or a burning sensation when urinating and inflammation.
But roughly one in 10 men and more than three-quarters of women with the infection will show no recognisable symptoms.
Typically public health campaigners have advised people to use condoms to reduce the risk of catching gonorrhoea, but the latest findings suggest this may not be enough.
The study included more than 3000 men, six per cent of whom had tested positive for oral gonorrhoea.
The volunteers reported that they had four kissing-only partners on average, five kissing-with-sex partners and one sex-only partner in the last three months.
“We found that the more people an individual kissed also placed them at an increased risk of having throat gonorrhoea, irrespective of whether sex occurred with the kissing. This data challenges the accepted traditional transmission routes of gonorrhoea held for the past 100 years, where a partner’s penis was thought to be the source of throat infection,” Eric Chow, the lead author of the study, told the Washington Post.
“We found after we controlled statistically for the number of men kissed, that ‘the number of men someone had sex with but did not kiss was not associated with throat gonorrhoea.
“Through our research, we have shown that gonorrhoea can be passed on through kissing. This will help people understand how the infection was introduced — particularly if they have not have been sexually active.
“We know it’s unlikely that people will stop kissing, and our team is already doing a clinical trial examining whether daily use of mouthwash could prevent gonorrhoea. If it works, it could be a simple and cheap intervention for everyone.”
UN’s health agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO), has estimated that 78 million people are infected with gonorrhoea every year worldwide.