Can I Get HIV from Kissing?

Despite Assurances by Health Authorities, Some Still Remain Doubtful

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Photograph © David Martyn Hunt

Question: Can I get HIV from kissing?

Answer: 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 a 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 potentially increase the risk of HIV in women); and reported having  vaginal sex with condoms 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 exceptionally rare.

With that being said, there remain individuals who remain either overly anxious or doubtful as to the virtual impossibility of HIV transmission by kissing. In such cases, one has consider if there may be a so-called AIDS phobia, or the paralyzing fear of infection or an HIV risk that simply doesn't exist. At other times, a person may prescribe to contrarian beliefs about HIV or have misinformation as to the modes of transmission of the virus.

For these individuals, counseling with a qualified HIV professional may be indicated, as well as psychological counseling in cases of 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 getting HIV by 80% or more.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "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.

Altman, L. "Case of H.I.V. Transmission Is First to Be Linked to Kiss." New York Times; published July 11, 1997.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). "How Do You Get HIV or AIDS?" Washington, D.C.; access June 11, 2015.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/ "Interim Guidance for Clinicians Considering the Use of Preexposure Prophylaxis for the Prevention of HIV Infection in Heterosexually Active Adults." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).; August 10, 2012; 61(31):586-589.

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