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Kissing and the Common Cold?

Valentine’s Day always brings the question “Can you catch a cold by kissing?” A 1984 experiment gave this answer: “Casual social encounters or kisses between infected and susceptible individuals are probably unlikely to result in the transmission of rhinoviruses.”

Here’s kissing data from the experiment. The citation and further quotations appear below it.

The study is “Short-Duration Exposure and the Transmission of Rhinoviral Colds,” D.J. D’Alessio, C.K. Meschievitz, J.A. Peterson, C.R. Dick and E.C. Dick, Journal of Infectious Diseases, vol. 150, no. 2, August 1984, pp. 189-94. The authors, at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, say:

Casual social encounters or kisses between infected and susceptible individuals are probably unlikely to result in the transmission of rhinoviruses….

Kissing experiment. Direct oral contact was an obvious route of possible transmission and was explored next. Forty-eight hours after being infected with RV55, four donors kissed five recipients for 1 min. A second group of six donors, similarly infected, kissed 11 recipients for 1.5 min (two 45-sec contacts)….

Data from our previous and current experiments provide some possible explanations for the modest rate of rhinoviral transmission by kissing. The mouth is the most likely portal of viral exit and entry during kissing, with saliva serving as the vehicle for viral transfer….

In our current studies we were unable to recover virus from nearly 90070 of specimens from donors’ lips. These results with lip and saliva specimens, along with the 8,000-fold lower level of sensitivity to infection via the tongue than via the intranasal route, may explain the difficulty of direct oral transmission of rhinovirus….

During kissing the lateral margins of donor and recipient noses may also touch. [Our observations, as well as previous data] suggests that transmission resulting from nose-to-nose contact during kissing is infrequent….

BONUS QUOTE: “A series of experiments was designed for the measurement of virus levels and the exploration of susceptibility to the virus at the portals of its entry and exit via direct or indirect contact, such as kissing, nosepicking, and nailbiting.”

Improbable Research