The act of kissing has been revealed as a previously neglected route for the transmission of gonorrhoea among men who have sex with other men (MSM).
A questionnaire-based study led by Eric Chow from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, published in the journal BMJ Sexually Transmitted Infections, found that men who kissed multiple male partners in a three-month period had between 46% and 81% higher odds of contracting throat, or oropharyngeal, gonorrhoea compared to men who kissed only one partner, or for whom kissing did not form part of the sexual regimen.
“These data suggest that kissing may be associated with transmission of oropharyngeal gonorrhoea in MSM, irrespective of whether sex also occurs,” the researchers conclude.
To make the finding, Chow and colleagues invited gay and bisexual clients to a major public sexual health service in Melbourne to fill out a survey regarding sexual encounters over the preceding three months. The questions asked whether, and how often, intimate encounters with other men involved kissing-only, kissing with sex, or sex without kissing.
The exercise ran throughout 2016 and more than 3000 men agreed to do the paperwork.
Among the cohort, just over 6% presented with throat gonorrhoea. The highest rates were among men who had four or more partners who kissed, whether or not sex occurred.
The results, write the researchers, if confirmed by further studies, indicate that public health campaigns aimed at stopping gonorrhoea transmission among the MSM community may not be adequate.
Current prophylactic advice centres on the use of condoms. Chow and colleagues suggest new approaches should “open up preventive options such as antibacterial mouthwash”.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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