Kissing may affect oral gonorrhoea transmission in men who have sex with men (MSM)

15th July 2016

Data presented at the Annual Conference of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV in July 2016 reported that kissing may have an important role in facilitating the transmission of gonorrhoea in men who have sex with men (MSM).

The findings presented by Professor Kit Fairley, Professor of Public Health at Monash University, are from a study of MSM carried out at Melbourne Sexual Health Centre - he reported that the transmission of saliva between MSM through kissing may be an important risk factor for gonorrhoea transmission. The possibility was also raised that Listerine antiseptic mouthwash may help to reduce the spread of oral gonorrhoea in MSM and an ongoing trial is looking at this.

Data from Public Health England (PHE) demonstrates that gonorrhoea incidence has risen sharply in England in recent years. According to figures released by PHE in early July 2016, there were 39,696 new cases of gonorrhoea across the country in 2015, and the number of diagnoses have increased by 88% since 2011.

Furthermore, in April 2016, PHE issued a national incident response following the continued spread of high level azithromycin-resistant gonorrhoea to the West Midlands and parts of southern England, including London.

Commenting on the Australia data, Dr Elizabeth Carlin, President of BASHH said:

These new findings could have potentially far-reaching consequences for sexual health in terms of our understanding of how gonorrhoea is spread and how the transmission risk for oral gonorrhoea in MSM may be reduced.

Whilst it is important that we do not abandon our existing safer sex messages, the study suggests for the first time that MSM should be advised that kissing may represent a risk factor for transmission of gonorrhoea. It is fascinating to consider that the use of Listerine mouthwash may help to reduce the risk of oral gonorrhoea and I look forward to seeing further results on this.

In the light of the continued and worrying spread of gonorrhoea reported by PHE, as well as the risk of antibiotic-resistant strains of the infection, it is important that we work quickly to better understand the implications of these findings so that MSM receive the best possible advice on how to protect themselves.

Dr Elizabeth Carlin, BASHH President

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