Can I Get HIV from Kissing?

Despite assurances from authorities, some remain doubtful

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Let's start by stating the obvious: kissing is considered among the most ineffective means of transmitting HIV from one person to another, with risk considered anywhere from negligible to non-existent.

To date, there has really been only one, rather dubious case where an HIV-negative woman was said to have infected by her HIV-positive male partner, who reportedly deep kissed her on a regular basis over a two-year period, often with bleeding gums.

What makes the case—which was reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) back in 1996—highly suspect is the fact that the couple also reported condom breakage during the same period, reported that they had used a nonoxynol-9 lubricant (now known to increase HIV risk in women), and reported having vaginal sex and oral sex without condoms during the span of their relationship.

While the CDC reported that they suspected HIV transmission was "possibly associated with exposure of mucous membranes to contaminated blood," they could not exclude vaginal sex, oral sex, or any other possibility.

Beyond this one incident, there has been no documented case wherein kissing alone was identified as the mode of HIV transmission in either a sexual or social situation.

Establishing the Conditions for HIV Transmission

It's important to always remember that there are four conditions that must be met in order for HIV transmission to take place:

  1. There must be body fluids in which HIV can thrive, such as semen, blood, vaginal fluids or breast milk. HIV cannot thrive in the open air or in parts of the body with high acid content (such as the stomach or bladder) or antimicrobial defenses (such as the mouth).
  2. There must be a route of transmission, such as through certain sexual activities, shared needles, occupational exposure, or transmission from mother to child.
  1. There must be a means for the virus to reach vulnerable cells inside your body, either through a rupture or penetration of the skin, absorption through mucosal tissues, or both. HIV cannot penetrate intact skin.
  2. There must be sufficient levels of virus in the body fluids, which is why saliva, sweat, and tears are unlikely sources since the level of virus in these fluids is considered insufficient for infection.

Based on these conditions, the likelihood of HIV transmission by kissing is not only considered low but pretty much near impossible.

AIDS Phobia and Conspiracy Theorists

With that being said, there are people who still fear that infection is possible from the unlikely sources, including touching, mosquitos, shared grooming products, and, kissing. AIDS phobia, the paralyzing and unreasonable of HIV, plays a huge part in these beliefs. At other times, a person may prescribe to contrarian view about HIV or are simply misinformed about HIV in general.

For these individuals, counseling with a qualified professional may be needed as well as psychotherapy for those experiencing extreme anxiety or depression. Additionally, if the person is at risk of acquiring HIV or in a mixed-status (serodiscordant) relationship, doctors may want to consider prescribing ​HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a once-daily pill that can reduce the risk of HIV by more than 90 percent.

Unfortunately, these types of fears and beliefs are not as isolated as one might assume. According to a 2011 study published in the journal AIDS Behavior, as many as 49 percent of African Americans believe that HIV was genetically engineered by the CIA, while 68 percent prescribe to the belief that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is intentionally blocking natural cures of HIV from being approved.

Sources:

Bogart, L.; Galvan, F.; Wagner, G; et al. "Longitudinal Association of HIV Conspiracy Beliefs with Sexual Risk Among Black Males Living with HIV." AIDS Behavior. August 2011; 15(6):1180-1186.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Transmission of HIV Possibly Associated with Exposure of Mucous Membranes to Contaminated Blood." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). July 11, 1997; 46(27);620-623.

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