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Cold Sore Kissers under the Mistletoe

Not many people consider that an innocent kiss can lead to the contraction of the cold sore virus, yet the truth is that for an unknown proportion of the 3.7 billion under-50s in the world currently living with the HSV-1 virus, the first outbreak can be traced back to nothing more sinister than a kiss.

Unfortunately, there is sometimes no way for either the carrier or the uninfected person to be able to tell whether they have the virus – for example, there may be no visible evidence of the blister or even sign of the tingling that inevitably heralds the onset of an outbreak.

And cold sores are not the only illness it is possible to contract via kissing. In fact, there are many other types of pathogen a person can be exposed to through kissing. Below we examine this frequently overlooked issue, with particular reference to Christmas.

It started with a kiss (under the mistletoe)

We are all familiar with playground warnings that kissing might result in us contracting boy or girl germs. Leaving aside the fact that germs do not distinguish between genders, it is fair to say that these puerile chants are close to the truth.

Whether we call it pashing, necking, snogging, making-out, tonsil hockey, tongue wrestling, swapping spit or something else, it is undeniable that a bit of ill-advised or unfortunate kissing can leave you searching for so much more than mere cold sore cream.

From coughs and colds to gastrointestinal viruses or even mononucleosis or hepatitis, the act of oral intimacy, no matter how short-lived, can have numerous health implications.

Dr John Cowden, an epidemiologist formerly with the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health, explains: "Even if someone isn’t ill and they have good hygiene, take a swab from their mouth, put it on an agar plate and you will grow some germs.”

This, of course, does not mean that we should avoid kissing altogether; after all, we have evolved to kiss as a sign of intimacy and affection. It is just that we should take care not to kiss people indiscriminately, particularly during the winter months when respiratory viruses are rife and our immune systems may be struggling to work as effectively as they might during other times of the years.

And with more than 12 million cold sore sufferers in the UK, kissing remains one of the major causes of contagion. So although we are not saying you should avoid a kiss under the mistletoe this Christmas, it's best to stay on the safe side and avoid it if either you or the person you are considering kissing is feeling unwell or exhibiting the symptoms of a possible cold sore outbreak.