Can you get AIDS from Kissing?

Since the end of the last century few diseases have evoked so much fear and concern as AIDS. While the prime reason for this continues to be the fact that a definite and complete cure has continued to elude scientists, another equally strong cause remains the confusion and misconception over how AIDS is transmitted. Men and women from across the world have agonized over whether one can get AIDS from kissing. Here are a few facts to set confusion at rest.

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First of all it is necessary to get a clear picture about AIDS the disease. AIDS or Acquired Immunodefiency Syndrome is a disease that weakens the human immune system to the point when it can no longer fight off infections and results in death unless treatment is started. AIDS is caused by the HIV or human immunodeficiency virus which belongs to a group of viruses known as retrovirus. While it is necessary for an AIDS patient to be infected with HIV, one can have HIV in the system without exhibiting the symptoms of AIDS. AIDS actually refers to an advanced, more specifically Stage-3, stage of HIV infection when infection-fighting CD-4 cells in the body fall to a critical level and/or the immune system is no longer able to ward off certain types of infections and cancers.

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According to the Center for Disease Control of the US Department of Health and Human Services 1 the most common ways for the transmission of HIV infection are through exchange of specific body fluids like blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk from the HIV-infected to the non-infected person. These particular fluids must come into contact with the mucous membrane, a damaged tissue or be injected directly into the blood stream for the infection to transmission of HIV to take place. This means that even though the HIV virus can be detected in several tissues and fluids of the infected person, the transmission of infection may not take place through that particular tissue or fluid.

In United States, the most common ways of transmission of HIV are:

  1. Unprotected sexual activity including anal and vaginal sex
  2. Sharing needles with an infected person

Less common but theoretically possible ways are:

  1. Oral sex
  2. From mother to baby before or during childbirth, during breastfeeding or giving pre-chewed food to the baby
  3. Transfusion of infected blood, infected blood products or organ transplantation.

The last two causes are less common ways of AIDS transmission because of the widespread blood testing that is performed in healthcare settings and preventive care taken by those potentially at risk at the guidance of the healthcare givers.

The fact that HIV is transmitted through specific body fluids has brought kissing, especially the kind that is known as wet kissing, into focus. The CDC website is quite categorical that the highest concentration of HIV virus resides in blood, semen, vaginal fluid and bodily fluid containing blood. Other fluids like the fluid surrounding the brain, the spinal cord, the bone joints and the unborn baby have been known to infect some healthcare workers.

So what about kissing? The CDC website clarifies that the possibility of transmission of HIV/AIDS depends on what kind of kissing involved. Closed mouth kissing where there is no exchange of saliva is completely safe and there is no risk of infection even when being kissed by a HIV-infected person. However in case of open mouth kissing particularly ‘French kissing’, the saliva might contain traces of blood which can theoretically transmit HIV from the infected to the non-infected partner. This is particularly likely when the HIV-infected person has sore, bleeding gums as a result of which the saliva might contain blood.

There is still degree of confusion whether saliva per se can be a medium of transmission of HIV/AIDS. According to the CDC, the HIV virus has been detected in the saliva of patients living with HIV but in extremely low quantities. Contact with saliva alone has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV, and there is no documented case of transmission from an HIV-infected person for instance by spitting on another person. The problem with open kissing is that saliva might contain traces of infected blood which may be enough to transmit the infection.

So even though chances of HIV/AIDS transmission by deep, open-mouth kissing are low as compared to sexual activity, still it is theoretically possible. However closed mouth kissing involves no danger of transmission. Finally the best kind of prevention from HIV/AIDS remains awareness about ways of its transmission and knowing a partner’s HIV status before engaging in any kind of potentially risky behavior.