Dear Alice,

Although this may sound like a really silly question coming from a graduate student, it's something I need to find out. A couple of weeks ago I was at a party. A "gay" friend of mine came over to me and kissed me near my mouth. As it turns out, this person was recently diagnosed as having the AIDS virus. Now, I am completely paranoid. I am a monogamous, as well as an incredibly responsible individual. Please let me know if I need to be "tested," or if I am worrying in vain. I hope you take the time to answer this question, because I am sure there are plenty of people who share the same concern.

Is it the Kiss of Death?

Dear Is it the Kiss of Death?,

Based on the type of contact you've described, your friend's show of affection is nothing to worry about, nor do you need to get tested for HIV. Think about how rampant the virus would be if it could be transmitted by kissing, sharing glasses, utensils, or toothbrushes. It takes an infected person's bodily fluids (not including saliva or sweat) to make contact with your mucous membranes to potentially transmit HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). No cases of HIV transmitted by closed-mouth kissing alone have been reported. It's good to note that the reason a peck on the cheek doesn't really pose a risk is because the concentration of HIV in saliva is far too low (one caveat: very rarely has open-mouth or "French" kissing been successful in the transmission of the virus — which is believed to be due to contact with infected blood from cuts in the mouth, not saliva).

Here are the ONLY ways you can get HIV:

  • By infected blood, semen, or vaginal or cervical secretions coming into contact with mucous membranes or an open wound
  • Injection of infected blood or blood products (i.e., with shared needle)
  • Transmission from infected mother to baby in the womb or via breastfeeding (from infected breast milk)

To learn more about the specifics of HIV transmission, read Routes of HIV transmission?

If you are practicing safer sex — vaginal, anal, and oral — and are not sharing needles, you're going a long way to protect yourself and your partner(s) from HIV transmission. Safer sex can include using barrier methods — such as condoms and dams — during sex, talking with your partner(s) about sexual experiences, getting tested if you think you've been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and limiting the number of sexual partners you have.

If it's true that your friend has tested positive for HIV, s/he may need your friendship now more than ever. Don't worry, you can be a supportive friend, giving all the hugs and kisses you want, without contracting HIV.

Take care,


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