Could Circumcision Lower the Risk of HIV Infection?

Circumcision may lower the risk of a boy becoming infected with HIV because of changes in bacteria that live around the circumcision site on the penis, a new study published in the journal mBio has found.  The new finding builds on previous research that had associated circumcision with lower HIV, but had not identified a major cause for the association.  More on the new study from CNN.com:

Relying on the latest technology that make sequencing the genes of organisms faster and more accessible, Lance Price of the Translational Genomics Research institute (TGen) and his colleagues conducted a detailed genetic analysis of the microbial inhabitants of the penis among a group of Ugandan men who provided samples before circumcision and again a year later.

While the men showed similar communities of microbes before the operation, 12 months later, the circumcised men harbored dramatically fewer bacteria that survive in low oxygen conditions. They also had 81% less bacteria overall compared to the uncircumcised men, and that could have a dramatic effect on the men’s ability to fight off infections like HIV, says Price.

Previous studies showed that circumcised men lowered their risk of transmitting HIV by as much as 50%, making the operation an important tool in preventing infection with the virus.

Why? A high burden of bacteria could disrupt the ability of specialized immune cells known as Langerhans cells to activate immune defenses.

Image: Newborn boy, via Shutterstock

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