Love Bugs: A kiss is NOT just a kiss

Love Bug

You must remember this; a kiss is NOT just a kiss, because the fundamentals of microbiology apply. 

“The human mouth has viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa swimming about,” says Aileen Marty, M.D., professor of infectious diseases at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. 

Studies suggest the mouth is home to more than 700 types of bacteria, and a study by Dutch scientists last November showed that in only ten seconds, a single, passionate kiss can transfer 80 million bacteria into a partner’s mouth. 

Suddenly, having to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince doesn’t sound half as bad as actually finding your prince and kissing him! 

“Of course, some people have more germs than others in their mouth,” says Marty, “some microbes are not harmful, and in fact can be helpful.” 

That doesn’t sound so bad.

Marty points out that our mouths are armed with certain defenses. For example, saliva helps flush out and therefore clean our mouths. “Saliva contains natural antibiotics such as antimicrobial proteins (e.g., lysozyme) that can kill many germs, plus saliva can have antibodies that can help kill germs,” she says. “ Our mouths also have “good” bacteria that live in the mouth and help prevent the growth of “bad” bacteria”—all good news, but then she adds, “although many microbes reside in the mouth, others are transients that actually cause disease. And some people harbor serious pathogens that they themselves do not react to but that can cause disease in others.” 

That doesn’t sound so good.

Not even if you set it to music:

“What do you get when you kiss a guy?
You get enough germs to catch pneumonia”
… were part of the lyrics of  Dionne Warwick’s 1970 hit song, “I’ll never fall in love again”. 

But Marty doesn’t want to be the one to burst your bubble or ruin your love life. While kissing can transmit certain diseases including infectious mononucleosis, influenza (flu), herpes simplex (cold sores), hepatitis B, and hookworms, to name a few, she says the risk of contracting a serious disease through kissing is very small.  “Remember that your getting sick from exposure to any particular germ depends in large part on the infectious dose; so the person you kiss would have to give you a large dose of the bad germ that is in their mouth.” 

So let’s keep things in perspective. The human body is not all human. It consists of about 100 trillion microbial cells. They outnumber human cells 10 to 1, and most of them are good guys. Besides, when the real love bug hits, and you’re kissing your sweetheart, chances are you won’t even remember how many zeroes are in a trillion. 

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