Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
Can you catch hepatitis from kissing? How can you protect yourself?
Linda Lesondak, PhD on August 8, 2011
Thanks for your great questions. Learning about hepatitis can be confusing at first because there are several different strains of hepatitis. The hepatitis viruses–most commonly known as hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C–are all distinct viruses that cause the same problem: inflammation of the liver.
First, let me assure you that regular kissing doesn’t put you at risk for hepatitis...unless you’re French kissing (with your mouth and tongue) and you both have open wounds in your mouth.
And if vaginal fluid comes into contact with unprotected skin, the risk of transmitting hepatitis is also low...but not zero.Again,if you have any open wounds that come into contact with vaginal fluid, there is a small risk of transmission...but you can greatly reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection by using a latex condom or a dental dam every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex.
That said, be aware that there are a few STDs that can be transmitted even with condom use...herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV) and pubic lice are the most common. So it’s a good idea to talk to your sexual partner or partners about each other’s STD status before you get into any sexual activity.
What’s the difference between the three hepatitis viruses?
You can get hepatitis A from coming into contact with feces containing the virus. There are many ways this can happen, such as eating or drinking food or water that’s been contaminated, or eating food that’s been touched by someone with the hepatitis A virus who didn’t wash their hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom. You can also get hepatitis A if you participate in oral-anal contact (analingus, or rimming) without protection.
Hepatitis B is usually spread through sexual activity. The hepatitis B virus lives in bodily fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal fluid. That means you can get the virus by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who’s infected. You can also catch the virus by sharing razors or toothbrushes that might have blood on them, or from tattoos or injecting drugs. For detailed information about hepatitis B risk factors, symptoms, vaccination and more, see our Expert Guide to Hepatitis B.
The hepatitis C virus lives in the blood, so you can get it by coming into contact with blood from an infected person. This could happen during vaginal, anal or oral sex, or by sharing needles, razorblades or toothbrushes. Our Expert Guide to Hepatitis C offers specifics about symptoms, complications, testing and treatment of the hepatitis C virus.
Talk to your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis B and hepatitis C. If you have any reason for concern that you may have been exposed to a hepatitis virus, getting tested is the only way to know for sure whether you’re infected. And, generally speaking, if you’re worried about having been exposed to one STD, it’s possible that you were exposed to others...so, for your peace of mind, you may also want to consult your doctor about testing for other common STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV and herpes 1 & 2. Knowing one’s STD status means earlier treatment, if necessary, and a higher likelihood of avoiding more serious STD-related health challenges in future.
Thanks for asking what’s what about hepatitis, and I wish you good health.
Dr. Lesondak is a Community Psychologist with the Chicago Department of Public Health. Her areas of expertise include STDs, HIV, preventive care, public health and community planning, as well as human sexuality and women’s health. Dr. Lesondak was educated at Georgia University in Atlanta.