Many Benefits to Circumcision: Operation in Males Fends off Three Common Viral STDs

By Seppa, Nathan | Science News, April 25, 2009 | Go to article overview

Many Benefits to Circumcision: Operation in Males Fends off Three Common Viral STDs


Seppa, Nathan, Science News


Male circumcision offers a degree of protection against genital herpes and human papillomavirus infections, scientists report in the March 26 New England Journal of Medicine. Previous research shows circumcision can also help protect against HIV, which means the operation can fend off the three most common viral sexually transmitted diseases--all of which are currently incurable.

The new findings, from a study of men and adolescent boys in Uganda, show that circumcision provides only partial protection against these three viruses, and the researchers caution that it should not be considered a full shield.

Nevertheless, that partial benefit could have a huge public health impact, says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md. Herpes ulcers, for example, make a man more susceptible to HIV infection. "Circumcision not only prevents HIV outright, but also prevents [genital herpes] that is associated with an increased likelihood of acquisition of HIV," he says. In Kenya, four out of five people infected with HIV are also infected with genital herpes, says Robert Bailey of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Meanwhile, the new study and a recent report from South Africa show that male circumcision may benefit female sexual partners, too. Compared with uncircumcised men, men who were circumcised as part of either of the clinical trials were one-third less likely to be infected with one of the dangerous types of human papillomavirus, or HPV, that can cause cervical cancer when passed on to women.

A third study team, based in Kenya, will also report findings in the coming months on circumcision's effect against STDs. …

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