New research strongly suggests that circumcising your baby may protect him against AIDS later in life. Two studies followed nearly 8,000 men (half circumcised, half not). The studies found that circumcised men contracted AIDS about 50 percent less frequently than those in the uncircumcised group. (Although the research was conducted in Africa, where the risk of AIDS is much higher, American experts believe the findings are relevant for us, too. The major issue is that the foreskin seems to somehow harbor viruses.) The results from the African studies were so staggering that the clinical trials were halted by the National Institutes of Health Data Safety and Monitoring Board, which concluded that not offering circumcision to every man was unethical and an unnecessary risk to their lives.
Even though the studies (and circumcisions) were performed on grown men, the study results are relevant to baby circumcisions since the biology is the same -- presence of penis foreskin increases the risk of contracting HIV, whether the circumcision was performed at birth or in adulthood.
Circumcision is the removal of a portion of the foreskin at the end of the penis. This foreskin is thought to increase a man's risk of HIV contraction for two reasons. First, the underside of the foreskin contains immune system cells -- to which HIV cells can easily attach. Second, the foreskin often suffers small tears during intercourse, allowing the HIV cells to enter the bloodstream. Circumcising your baby can eliminate these two risk factors.
"Lower incidence of HIV, lower incidence of urinary tract infections, and lower incidence of penile cancer" are all proven medical benefits of circumcision, says Dr. Ari Brown, pediatrician, author of Baby 411 and a Parents.com advisor. "But thus far, those benefits have not been significant enough for any major medical organization to advise routine male circumcision. This new study may have an impact on what is advised in the future, but remember there are other risk factors and other ways to prevent HIV transmission."
Additionally, the studies go on to suggest that circumcised men who are already infected with HIV were about 30 percent less likely to transmit it to their female partners. Earlier studies in the United States and Europe, and published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, also showed that uncircumcised men were about three times as likely as circumcised ones to infect a female partner with the human papillomavirus, the virus that can lead to cervical cancer.
Obviously, the decision about whether or not to circumcise a newborn son is a personal one that all parents need to make on their own, taking into account cultural and religious considerations as well as health concerns. But this latest research may help ambivalent parents reach their conclusion.