Gonorrhoea can be spread through kissing, a new study has found.
Experts previously thought that the disease - which is the second most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the UK - could only be passed on through unprotected sex.
However, new research has found that the illness can be passed on through the exchange of saliva during kissing.
Disease can be untreatable
Gonorrhoea, which can develop in the genitals, rectum, throat and eyes, can be very difficult to treat as some strains are resistant to antibiotics.
Signs you could have throat gonorrhoea include a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, though in many cases it causes no symptoms.
A study at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, surveyed more than 3,000 men on their sex lives.
All of the men studied were either gay or bisexual - a decision made by lead author Professor Eric Chow of the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre because this is the demographic where the disease is most prevalent in Australia.
However, the results of the study apply to people of all sexualities.
Participants filled in a survey where they described their sexual practices, including partners they had just kissed, just had sex with or had done both with.
More than 3,000 people studied
Those who had kissed and had sex with at least four people were 81 per cent more likely to get throat, or oropharyngeal, gonorrhoea.
And those who had only kissed at least four people were 46 per cent more likely to get it than those with one or no partners.
Study leader Dr Eric Chow said: “A number of pieces of evidence suggest that transmission from the oropharynx (part of the throat) may be more common than previously thought.”
He explained that as the bacteria can be cultured from saliva, it is possible that the exchange of saliva between individuals may potentially transmit gonorrhoea.
He added: “Antiseptic mouthwash, if shown to be effective against oropharyngeal gonorrhoea, could provide a non-condom and non-antibiotic-based intervention for gonorrhoea control.”
NHS dispute the claim
However, the NHS has disputed the findings and claims that kissing is still not a risk factor as far as the transmission of gonorrhea is concerned.
It said that the bacterial disease was most commonly spread through unprotected sex and the sharing of sex toys.
The NHS website warns the bacteria are mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid and states: “Gonorrhoea is not spread by kissing, hugging, swimming pools, toilet seats, or sharing baths, towels, cups, plates or cutlery. The bacteria cannot survive outside the human body for long.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site Yorkshire Post.