Alexis on the Sexes: Bad blow | Updated 1/23/2013

Can you catch the flu from oral?

Q: In the midst of this record-breaking flu season, I was wondering what the risks are of spreading the flu or a cold through oral sex. My guess would be that if Person A is sick and proceeds to eat out Person B, the risk of transmission is pretty high due to the mouth hosting a lot of these “germs” and the vagina being a warm, inviting mucus membrane. What about the opposite situation? Do I put myself at risk of getting the flu if I get head from someone who has it? This is taking the factor of kissing out of the equation (obvious way of spreading illness), but do vaginal fluids or semen have the ability to carry these pathogens? Is this something the news should be addressing in addition to the hours they have already spent informing us how not to catch the flu this year?


A: The one-word answer? No. People cannot transmit the flu virus via semen or vaginal fluid … unless you’re a pig. The only instance that I could find where a respiratory virus is present in seminal plasma is something called blue-ear pig disease, a virus unique to swine. Quick, go look in the mirror. If you either have blue ears or are in fact a pig, please refrain from ejaculating until you are clear of the virus.

Human sex when you’re sick, though, is still pretty risky. There’s a lot of disagreement about the flu and how to prevent it, but infectious disease experts and the CDC agree on one thing: If you come down with the flu, it’s because you came into direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person. Respiratory droplets — ew, such a gross term — are expelled during coughing, sneezing or talking. According to the CDC, if you’re within 6 feet of these droplets, it’s easy to inhale them and catch the flu. We can safely assume you’re always going to be closer than 6 feet to someone who’s giving you head. Ergo, just getting a blowjob from someone with the flu puts you at high risk of becoming infected. Likewise, if you’re infected with the flu, you can give it to someone via sexual favors of the oral variety. Really, unless you’re Skyping it in, sexual favors of any variety with an infected person put you at risk of catching the flu, even in the absence of kissing. You just won’t be transmitting it through semen or vaginal fluid.

There is a risk of getting sick by touching a surface that has the flu virus on it and then touching your nose or mouth, but this is actually less common than inhaling the respiratory droplets (ew). You should still wash your hands frequently, and refrain from putting people or things in your mouth that may have come in contact with the virus. It’s unrealistic of me to suggest that you stay celibate for the duration of flu season (October through May), but it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more selective when it comes to sex partners right now. According to the CDC, adults can infect others one day before their flu symptoms develop, and up to a week after those first symptoms appear. Look closer at that hottie across the bar. Does she appear feverish or peaked? Did she just sneeze into her armpit? Better pass on that, bro.

Speaking of sex and the flu, a research study at Wilkes University found that people who have sex one or two times per week have higher concentrations of the antibody Immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their system. IgA has the very important job of identifying and flagging foreign bacteria and viruses so that our immune system can attack and destroy them. Ramping it up to three or more times per week, however, weakens that IgA concentration, so try not to overdo it.

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