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Friday, February 10, 2006

Kissing 'risks meningitis'

Intimate kissing of many different partners can quadruple a teenager's risk of meningitis, a study has found.

Kissing with tongues enables the potentially deadly meningococcal bacteria to pass between partners.

The Australian team which carried out the British Medical Journal study of 144 teenagers defined multiple partners as up to seven in a fortnight.

Lead researcher Robert Booy said teenagers should change their behaviour - but accepted most would not.

In addition to kissing multiple partners, a history of preceding illness, and being a student were linked to an increased risk of disease, while attendance at a religious event was linked to a lower risk.

Other factors can increase someone's risk of becoming ill if they are exposed to the bacteria, the researchers found.

Having had the Epstein-Barr virus - itself called the 'kissing disease' - is a factor, as is having an upper respiratory tract infection. Being a student also appeared to increase risk.

But attending religious services did not.

The researchers suggest these last two factors could be 'markers' of behaviour, indicating whether they are more likely to have multiple kissing partners and be attending parties, where the meningococcal bacteria can also be passed on by smokers' coughing.

Linda Glennie, head of research at the Meningitis Research Foundation, which funded the study, said: "I don't expect teenagers to become nuns and monks for the duration of their university career, but I would encourage them to be aware of the symptoms."

Common Symptoms of Meningitis

  • High temperature, fever, possibly with cold hands and feet

  • Vomiting, sometimes diarrhoea

  • Severe headache

  • Joint and muscle pains, possible stomach cramps

  • Neck stiffness

  • Dislike of bright lights, disorientation



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