18.04.2024

Game-changing study overturns decades of medical advice

Gonorrhoea really can be spread by kissing, leading scientists now claim. For decades, sexual health experts have insisted ‘the clap’ couldn’t spread through snogging, and is instead transmitted through unprotected sex.

But researchers say the evidence is now clear enough that the guidance should be changed.

Professor Eric Chow, of the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, told MailOnline: ‘We think it is possible to catch gonorrhoea via kissing.

‘I think the guidelines should be updated.’

Gonorrhoea can be spread by kissing, scientists say, as they call for guidance to be changed

Gonorrhoea can be spread by kissing, scientists say, as they call for guidance to be changed

In January, his team of researchers conducted a review of six studies that looked at whether tongue kissing was a risk factor for gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

The review, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, ruled snogging did raise the risk of becoming infected.

However, this was not the case for chlamydia.

Meanwhile, a study published in July, by many of the same researchers, determined that kissing could spread gonorrhoea. It analysed the sexual history and STI records of more than 2,000 gay and bisexual men.

‘We found oropharyngeal gonorrhoea was associated with exposure to a partner’s mouth through kissing,’ the study authors wrote in eClinicalMedicine.

WHAT IS GONORRHOEA?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.

This bacteria is usually found in discharge from the penis or vaginal fluid.

It is passed through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as sharing vibrators or sex toys that have been used without a condom.

The bacteria can infect the cervix, urethra, rectum, throat or eyes.

It can also spread from pregnant women to their unborn babies.

As the bacteria cannot survive outside the body for long, gonorrhoea is not spread by kissing, hugging, sharing towels, toilet seats or swimming.

Around one in 10 men and half of women experience no symptoms.

However, these can include:

  • Thick green or yellow discharge from the genitals
  • Pain when urinating
  • Bleeding between periods in women

Treatment is usually a single antibiotic injection and tablet.

Gonorrhoea can be prevented by using condoms during sex and not sharing sex toys.

And in 2019, the same team found gay men were more likely to have gonorrhoea in their throat than their penis – and the risk of spreading it was greater for kissing than for oral sex.

‘A number of pieces of evidence suggest transmission from the oropharynx [back of the throat] may be more common than previously thought,’ Professor Chow and his colleagues wrote in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

‘[The bacteria] can be cultured from saliva, suggesting that the exchange of saliva between individuals may potentially transmit gonorrhoea.’

It means that, they claim, using saliva as a lubricant during sex could also pose a risk.

A spokesperson for the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV told MailOnline: ‘New research into the transmission of STIs is important for our understanding of how they spread and, in this instance, how the transmission risk of gonorrhoea may be reduced.

‘Gonorrhoea is primarily passed through unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex.

‘Whilst there may be cases where it has passed from mouth to mouth through kissing, this is probably very uncommon.

‘This research highlights the importance for individuals to get tested regularly, especially after condomless sex with a new or casual partner.

‘It remains essential for everyone to have access to high quality sexual health services to help keep you and your sexual partners safe.’

The NHS states gonorrhoea can’t be spread through mouth-to-mouth contact.

Meanwhile, US CDC advice states there isn’t enough evidence to prove it’s spread by kissing.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned in March that cases of the sexually transmitted infection (STI) have soared to a record high.

Provisional UKHSA data indicated 56,327 cases were logged between January and September 2022, up 21 per cent on the 46,541 recorded in the same period in 2019, which was the previous high.

Health bosses said the spike is largely being driven by those aged 15 to 24 ‘due to more frequent changes in sexual partners’.

Gonorrhoea is usually easily treated with a single antibiotic injection.

But experts fear the bacteria, like others, is slowly morphing to become resistant to the drugs.

Several strains of ‘super-gonorrhoea’ have already been detected across the world, including in the UK and US.

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