Circumcision and HIV

Aug 13, 2013 Posted by Nathan

Talking Points:

Circumcision and HIV:

Does circumcision prevent HIV? This single question has caused explosive controversy in recent years as medical experts on both sides of the argument point to compelling evidence.

The short answer: No, circumcision does not prevent HIV. Preventing it would mean stopping it. Condoms are the only proven barrier to actually stop HIV from spreading to the immune system during sexual contact.

Dr. OzBut this hasn’t stopped high-profile celebrity doctors, such as Dr. Oz, who have gone on record to say circumcision decreases the risks of HIV infection. News outlets, such as Time Magazine, have also published articles alleging that circumcision may reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

A study released by the World Health Organization reports that circumcision reduced the risk of HIV by 50-60% during randomized controlled trials in Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa. But critics point out that the trials were ended early, many of the participants did not come back for follow-ups to be tested, and as many as 33% of the participants were not having unprotected sex to begin with. All of these factors could greatly skew the outcome, making circumcision appear more effective than it actually was.

Circumcision May Actually Increase the Risk of HIV:

Researchers has discovered that the foreskin may actually protect the body from infection by HIV.

The inner foreskin of uncircumcised men has Langerhans cells, which produce a protein called Langerin. When HIV tries to attack, Langerin “eats up” the virus before it can attack the host.

When the foreskin is removed, the penis is left defenseless without Langerin, making it even easier for HIV to infect the immune system.

Follow the Numbers in the U.S. and Europe:

The United States has the highest number of circumcised men in the world and also the highest number of HIV infections of any developed country. When the AIDS epidemic struck in 1981, around 82% of American men were circumcised.

Meanwhile, around 90% of men in Europe are uncircumcised, yet Europe has considerably

Researchers have discovered that cells in the mucosal lining of produce a protein that “eats up” HIV before it can invade the host.

invading HIVThe inner foreskin of intact (uncircumcised) men produces something called Langerin. Studies have shown Langerin “eats away” infection, including HIV cells. In other words, the foreskin has its own unique system for naturally fighting off disease before it can infect the immune system.

Once again, I’d like to remind readers that condoms are the only proven effective barrier to protect against HIV. I will say this often, since glossy magazines and celebrity doctors seem to forget. And if sexually active men properly use a condom during sex, it doesn’t really matter if they’re circumcised or not. His risks for infection are very low.

There are just as many doctors who say circumcision does not lower HIV infection rates. In fact, they say the inner foreskin’s antibacterial properties help kill viruses, making uncircumcised men less likely to contract HIV.

Some doctors have pointed out inaccuracies and flaws in popular studies about circumcision decreasing HIV risks. A 2011 study released by the U.S. Navy concludes, “Lack of circumcision is not a risk factor for HIV.”

The Statue of DavidExperts also cite continents like Europe, where 85-99% of the males are uncircumcised, yet Europe’s densely populated countries have low rates of HIV infection. If the foreskin truly is that risky, why aren’t the rates higher?

Unfortunately these sides of the argument don’t get much air time, as it’s not nearly as sensational to report that circumcision has little or no effect on HIV. Everyone wants a fairy tale ending, where we magically discover circumcision prevents HIV and all is right in the world again.

But the doctors who are arguing that circumcision doesn’t prevent HIV have conducted their own research, published numerous reports, and they are every bit as qualified to present their findings as other doctors are. It’s too bad their voices have been drowned out by the heavyweights in popular news.

Based on the current information, we do not have enough evidence to prove circumcision is an effective protection against HIV. Even if the numbers are true, even if it reduces the risk by 60%, I don’t believe 60/40 is a good odd to play with when it comes to our health.

I will continue to be very interested in reading all medical reports that are published on this subject.

Nathan’s Notes: Condoms are still the most effective barrier for HIV

Since the AIDS epidemic started in 1981, doctors and medical experts have consistently agreed that latex condoms are the most reliable and effective barrier to protect against the spread of HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. Latex condoms also protect against other STDs, such as herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HPV, and they reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy. We have over 30 years of data and studies to confirm this to be true.

AIDS red ribbon and condomHow has all the attention turned to circumcision for safe sex, when it should be about condoms for safe sex? Many of the new reports I read about circumcision and HIV don’t even mention condoms as an option. It’s like living in a parallel universe where condoms don’t exist.

Quite frankly, this shift in priorities scares me. If we aren’t talking about condoms to protect us, people will forget we have that option, especially as new generations grow up and become sexually active adults.

I grew up in the ’80s, when the AIDS epidemic struck. I remember the news. I remember celebrities wearing red ribbons on their lapels at awards shows. What will the young adults of the 21st century remember? All they will see is Dr. Oz on TV talking about circumcision to prevent HIV. Imagine a scenario where a circumcised male gets into bed and says, “Don’t worry, babe, I heard circumcised guys don’t get AIDS.”

I ask everyone reading this to please continue to get tested regularly, know your partner’s status, and practice safe sex. Your life is far too valuable to risk.

Good luck and good health to you all.

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About the Author, NathanNathan