Health Desk—August 3, 2017: Kissing is unlikely to pass on the Zika virus, which is harmless for most people but can cause severe brain damage in unborn children, a study with monkeys showed on Monday. Saliva, it concluded, was not a very effective carrier of the virus, which is known to spread through mosquito bites and sex.
"Our study suggests to us that kissing or sharing cutlery poses very little risk," said study co-author Thomas Friedrich of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.
"The only time this would not be true is if the Zika-infected person were very, very sick and had an extremely high amount of virus in their body and fluids," he told AFP.
"Because only one such case is known, we expect this is very rare indeed." Friedrich was referring to a case in Utah in the United States last year, when a man contracted the Zika virus while taking care of his dying father. He never touched his father's blood or other body fluids.
Tests found an unusually high concentration of Zika virus in the father's blood -- some 100,000 times greater than in most patients, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Friedrich and a team set out to test whether Zika can be passed on via the saliva of an infected person. They conducted two sets of experiments, and reported the results in the journal Nature Communications. In the first, the team applied Zika virus directly to the tonsils of three macaque monkeys, to show that it can, theoretically, spread through oral contact. All three were infected.
The team then took saliva samples from a different set of monkeys, which had been injected with virus in a concentration similar to what humans would get from a mosquito, and swabbed the tonsils of five healthy peers with it.