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Kissing Spreads Cancer-Related Herpes Virus: Study

November 8, 2000
BOSTON (Reuters) - A once-rare form of cancer may be spread through kissing, according to researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The findings in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine are especially significant for people who have AIDS .

In healthy people, human herpesvirus 8 or HHV-8 generally does not cause illness. But when those infected with AIDS also contract HHV-8, they have an increased chance of getting the cancer known as Kaposi's sarcoma, a malignant tumor usually of the skin.

Doctors had already known that HHV-8 is found in 11 percent to 20 percent of otherwise healthy gay men. Among men infected with the HIV virus , the rate ranges from 30 percent to 54 percent.

The study was an attempt to determine how HHV-8 passed between men and found that men who kissed a partner infected with the AIDS virus and HHV-8 were five times more likely than other men to become infected with HHV-8. Kissing is not generally considered a high-risk behavior for passing sexually transmitted diseases.

"Our findings suggest that safer sex practices, such as consistent use of condoms, although important in preventing other sexually transmitted infections, may not protect against HHV-8 infection," said the researchers lead by Dr. John Pauk.

"Our latest results indicate that the oral cavity is an important, if not the preeminent, source of infectious virus," they said.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Patrick Moore of Columbia University in New York, said "the acquisition of the virus through exposure to saliva may account for the high rates of infection in parts of Africa, where rates exceed 70 percent."