Herpes: Kissing on the lips is innocent – 05/20/2023 – Marcelo Leite

“But none of that matters / I’ll open the door / For you to come in / Kiss my mouth / Until you kill me”, Rita Lee asked in the song “Doce Vampiro”. Killing for pleasure, of course, in a figurative sense —and not literally, transmitting some disease, for example.

The exchange of saliva in the romantic-sexual kiss, as experts in behavior say, has always been under suspicion of promoting a turbocharged exchange of germs, such as viruses and bacteria. Kissing on the mouth gives you thrush, adults said to scare children with the specter of fungus infection candida albicans.

Nothing that cannot be cured, in many cases, with antiviral, antibiotic and antifungal medication. But would kissing with tongue also be responsible for the emergence of a virus as insidious as HSV-1, which causes cold sores?

An article in Science on Friday (19) presents arguments for rejecting the complaint against HSV-1. The virus had been indicted less than a year ago, on July 27 last year, in a journal of the same group, Science Advances.

There were 19 accusers at the time, authors of the article “Ancient genomes of herpes simplex 1 reveal recent viral structure in Eurasia”. The group was able to extract, identify, sequence and analyze stretches of HSV-1 DNA in the teeth of three people killed between the 3rd and 17th centuries AD

By analyzing differences and similarities in DNA sequences, geneticists estimated when the current lineage of the virus would have emerged and spread among humans. The problem would have started at the end of the Neolithic.

The indicated period coincides with the Bronze Age migrations, the first forms of writing and the great cities. From then on, cold sores spread, with close contact between inhabitants increasing the transmission of diseases in the following centuries.

HSV-1 was here to stay. Today, at least two-thirds of the global population carry this viral particle in latent form. Some more susceptible individuals, when subjected to stress, suffer from their return to activity and the formation of vesicles around the lips.

The multinational team behind the first article, from 2022, hypothesized that HSV-1, specifically, was favored by the emergence of a particular behavior, the romantic-sexual kiss. In their view, this would have occurred about 3,500 years ago, the time of the first written records of this very popular caress.

In the work published Friday, Troels Pank Arboll and Sophie Lund Rasmussen raise doubts against this hypothesis. While acknowledging that kissing on the mouth isn’t universal, they say it comes pretty close. They cite several previous records, starting with cuneiform writing created around 3200 BC

They also mention, as an indication of universality, that the closest relatives of humans, chimpanzees and bonobos, also practice the act of putting their lips in contact. They do not fail to note, however, that only among bonobos is there an evident sexual motivation.

But none of that matters. Herpes is a pain in the ass, true, but it seems a small price to pay for something so valuable. Anyone who has ever received kisses on the mouth knows how delicious it is.

Rita Lee knew better. It’s good to kill.

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