CAIRO: A popular way to greet one’s friends and relatives, the kiss has been a long-standing piece of Egyptian culture.
But in the wake of the 15th Egyptian death from bird flu, the kiss has come under attack. While seen by most as a harmless sign of affection, one doctor warns of the dangers of unrestricted kissing.
Pediatrician Adel Ashour spearheads his anti-kissing campaign from the National Center for Research. Launched a year and a half ago, the campaign aims to educate the public on the dangers of freely exchanging kisses.
We started this campaign two winters ago when bird flu was rapidly approaching Egypt. We were worried about transmission via water droplets in the breath and excessive kissing is an easy way for that to happen.
Ashour also emphasized that bird flu was not the only danger. I count 15 diseases that can be spread by kissing, among them [non-avian] flu, German measles, tuberculosis, mononucleosis and chicken pox.
While Dr Azza Abdel Azzim, head of microbiology at Bani Suef University, agreed with the infectious potential of kissing, she suggested that public health resources be directed elsewhere.
“Yes kissing can transmit many diseases, particularly Epstein-Barr [mononucleosis] and hepatitis C. Because of this, some people with weak immune systems should refrain from kissing.
“But kissing is not at all a significant problem for us right now. We need to make sure that drinking water is clean, for example, first.
Despite critical responses, Ashour seemed pleased with public reaction as a whole.
Some highly educated people have welcomed the idea, and there are some who didn t know about this danger, and now there s a discussion.
When asked about the cultural value of kissing to show affection, as well as its significance as a long-standing Egyptian tradition, Ashour seemed unimpressed.
Some people claim that kissing comes from the Pharaohs and now it has become ingrained in our culture. But it’s really a serious health problem, especially for those with compromised immune systems like children and the elderly. And moreover, this behavior just doesn t give us any real benefits.
In Europe they don t do that and they also don t stand so close to each other, which is another vector of transmission.
“Our campaign is making an effort to inform people of this problem. It s vital that we prevent our children from getting used to it.
He suggested simply employing alternative safe greeting methods, such as giving hugs (taking care not to breathe on each other’s faces) or merely shaking hands.
Abdel Azzim demurred. “If the other major health problems were fixed, then kissing would not be any problem at all, though I don’t think it really is now. People definitely can carry on this Egyptian tradition while maintaining their health.
But Ashour tried to put the problem in context. There s a report in France which advocates saying hello from far away and not even shaking hands because there are even health issues with that.
He paused, then laughed. But we re not going to go that far.