Kissing and Risk of Hepatitis: Should You Be Worried?

A Look at Ways in Which Hepatitis Is Transmitted

Portrait of young couple with wine, kissing
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It's been said that when you kiss someone, you kiss everyone that person has kissed before. I'll leave the doctors to debate the truth of that claim, but a point worth keeping is that sometimes kissing can be very intimate and, unfortunately, an opportunity to spread infection. Is viral hepatitis one of those infections?

The Easy Answer

The chance of contracting hepatitis from kissing is virtually non-existent, as hepatitis B, C and D can only be spread through blood and bodily fluids (including semen and vaginal secretions).

However, open sores and blood exchange through the mouth would change this. Hepatitis A and E also don't spread through kissing, as they are only transmitted through fecal-oral contact.

Quick Review of Hepatitis Viruses

The Not-So-Easy Answer

Since it's also been said that nothing in life is easy, maybe this question isn't as simple as we'd like it to be. The complexity comes from what is theoretically possible versus what is realistically probable. Realistically you're not going to get viral hepatitis from kissing. However, it is theoretically possible. Since any type of direct contact with infected blood is a possible way to spread some of these viruses, there are kissing scenarios where the risk of exposure increases. I'll let your imagination wonder, but think about cold sores, cuts, and prolonged kissing.

The Bottom Line

It all comes down to the level of risk you're willing to accept. Most of us regularly accept health risks of all kinds and levels in our lives. For example, we may drive a car, play contact sports, or smoke cigarettes. Obviously, most types of kissing are completely harmless and won't allow any opportunity to spread the hepatitis viruses.

For most people, the rare kissing scenarios that may allow some theoretical exposure to one of the hepatitis viruses will be risks worth taking.

A Closer Look at Hepatitis Transmission

Here's a more detailed look at how different types of hepatitis are transmitted:

  • Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and water and is thus fecal-oral. Fecal-oral means that feces has somehow contaminated a food or water source. Fecal-oral transmission is more common in developing countries and rare in developed nations like the United States and Western Europe.
  • Hepatitis B is transmitted by blood, needles, and sex. Hepatitis B can also be passed along during delivery from a mother to her newborn.
  • Hepatitis C is transmitted by needles and blood.
  • Hepatitis D can only be transmitted to a person who already has hepatitis B. Hepatitis D is transmitted by blood, needles, and sex. Hepatitis D can also be transmitted during delivery from a mother to her newborn.
  • Hepatitis E is transmitted by means of contaminated water. Like hepatitis A, hepatitis E is fecal-oral.

    Although anybody could potentially be at risk for infection with hepatitis virus, certain high-risk groups are at greater risk for infection. For example, the following groups of people are at increased risk for infection with hepatitis B:

    • health care workers
    • people with multiple sex partners
    • intravenous drug users
    • people who received blood transfusions before 1992
    • people who get tattoos and body piercing in nonsterile environments

    Sources:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 19, 2008. Viral Hepatitis B.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 10, 2008. Viral Hepatitis C.

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