Models of gonorrhoea transmission from the mouth and saliva

Lancet Infect Dis. 2019 Oct;19(10):e360-e366. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(19)30304-4. Epub 2019 Jul 16.


This Personal View argues for a new framework of gonorrhoea transmission in men who have sex with men in which the oropharynx plays a major role in transmitting gonorrhoea to, or acquiring gonorrhoea from, their partner's oropharynx, penis, or anorectum through either direct contact or via saliva. To avoid preconceived notions of transmission dynamics, we ask readers to imagine that they are investigating a new sexually transmitted infection. On the basis of the existing clinical and epidemiological data for gonorrhoea at the penis, oropharynx, and anorectum site, we develop two models for transmission: the so-called penile model and the so-called oropharyngeal model. We argue that the existing epidemiological data and behavioural data best fit the oropharyngeal model. Our argument rests on the observation that, at the population level, the prevalence of urethral gonorrhoea is too rare to explain the high incidence of oropharynx and anorectum infection. We describe studies of gonorrhoea detection in saliva, saliva use during sex, epidemiological studies of kissing and oropharyngeal gonorrhoea, as well as studies aided by mathematical models. Finally, we argue that the correlation between sexual acts (eg, kissing, oral sex, anal sex, and saliva use) is so high that any epidemiological study that does not measure these factors will be prone to confounding.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gonorrhea / epidemiology*
  • Gonorrhea / microbiology
  • Gonorrhea / transmission*
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Oropharynx / microbiology
  • Rectum / microbiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Saliva / microbiology*
  • Sexual Partners
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities
  • Tongue / microbiology*