Kissing is generally considered a low-risk activity for transmitting sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea. However, it is possible in some cases to get gonorrhea of the throat from kissing an infected partner.
Can you get gonorrhea from kissing?
The risk of getting gonorrhea from kissing is low, but not zero. Gonorrhea most commonly infects the genitals, rectum, and throat. Kissing someone with gonorrhea can potentially transmit the bacteria to a partner’s throat, leading to pharyngeal (throat) gonorrhea. However, many factors need to align for transmission to occur this way.
Factors that influence risk
- Whether the infected partner has pharyngeal gonorrhea – Only about 3-7% of people with gonorrhea are estimated to have throat infections. So the chances the infected partner can transmit through kissing are low.
- Amount of saliva exchanged – Wet, deep “French” kissing is higher risk than a brief peck on the lips.
- Oral hygiene – Poor oral hygiene or gum disease may facilitate transmission.
- Immune system health – People with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to infections.
There are no precise statistics on how many people get gonorrhea from kissing. However, some estimates suggest:
- Less than 1% of all gonorrhea transmission occurs through oral contact like kissing.
- 10-20% of people with oral gonorrhea report kissing as their only risk factor.
So while it’s not common, kissing should not be ruled out as a potential mode of transmission for gonorrhea.
Signs and symptoms
Signs of pharyngeal gonorrhea infection from kissing may include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Yellow or white discharge in the throat
However, many people with pharyngeal gonorrhea have no symptoms at all. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.
Gonorrhea can be detected through throat swabs sent for culture or nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT). Some guidelines recommend screening for pharyngeal gonorrhea if:
- The person has engaged in deep kissing with a partner with a confirmed gonorrhea infection.
- The person has symptoms of pharyngeal gonorrhea.
- The person’s partner was recently diagnosed with gonorrhea.
Talk to a doctor about testing if gonorrhea exposure through kissing is a concern.
Pharyngeal gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics, usually an injectable cephalosporin like ceftriaxone, or sometimes oral antibiotics like azithromycin or cefixime. It’s important to complete the full course of treatment and avoid sexual activity until cured.
All recent partners should also be notified, tested, and treated to prevent reinfection.
To reduce the low risk of getting gonorrhea from kissing:
- Avoid kissing people who may be infected or have symptoms.
- Use protection and get tested regularly if you have new sexual partners.
- Maintain good oral hygiene habits.
While not completely foolproof, these steps can help lower the chances of oral gonorrhea transmission through kissing or other contact.
Kissing as a route of gonorrhea transmission is uncommon. But pharyngeal infections can occur in a small percentage of cases, especially with deep, prolonged kissing with an infected partner. Testing and treatment is straightforward, but prevention through safer sexual choices remains the best way to avoid gonorrhea from kissing.