Circumcision reduces risk of Herpes and HPV infection

Men who are circumcised are less likely to get sexually transmitted infections such as genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), but not syphilis, according to a study of adult African men published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In a previous study, the same research team found that adult circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Efforts to increase the practice of male circumcision in areas with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, including Africa, could have a tremendous benefit, say the study’s authors. Genital herpes has been associated with an increased risk of HIV, and HPV can cause genital warts as well as a higher risk of anal, cervical (in women), and penile cancers.

Roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults have had at least one HPV infection, according to an editorial by Matthew R. Golden, M.D., and Judith N. Wasserheit, M.D., both of the University of Washington. Although vaccines against some of the most dangerous HPV strains have been approved for girls ages 13 to 26, the vaccines are expensive and routine Pap tests are still necessary to pick up cervical cancers.

It’s not clear why circumcision may affect infection rates. But the study authors suggest that penile foreskin may provide a moist, favorable environment for herpes and HPV to survive and enter cells on the skin’s surface. Once the foreskin is surgically removed, the risk of infection may be reduced.

They also note, however, that male circumcision is not completely effective in preventing sexually transmitted infections. Safe sex practices, including consistent condom use, are still necessary to provide the best protection.

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