HIV Snipped: How Does Circumcision Reduce Your Risk?


If you’re circumcised, you may have guarded your wellbeing against HIV infection by changing the bacteria ecosystem of your penis. This is according to a new study published in the journal mBio, which found that the foreskin-snipping procedure causes a significant drop in bacteria in the area that used to be under the foreskin, which may explain why circumcision reduces your sexual health risk of HIV infection.


The researchers noted that a year after men received circumcisions, their anaerobic bacteria, which thrive in limited oxygen, declined most dramatically, whilst some aerobic bacteria, which need oxygen to live, increased. Study researcher Lance Price, a genetic epidemiologist at George Washington University in Washington, DC, said in a statement, ‘It’s dramatic. From an ecological perspective, it’s like rolling back a rock and seeing the ecosystem change.’


The wellness pros and cons of circumcision are heavily debated. Those against the procedure argue that that the removal of your foreskin reduces your sexual sensitivity. This is complicated by the fact that studies on adults who are circumcised later in life, as opposed to the majority who are snipped as babies, have found little to no difference in terms of sexual sensitivity. However, many of those men are circumcised for medical reasons, confusing the issue even further. The American Academy of Paediatrics concluded in 2012 that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks.


In the new study, Price and his colleagues investigated men circumcised as adults in Uganda, finding less biodiversity in the microbes, or microbiome, living in the now foreskin-free area of the penis. Price commented that the bacterial die-off may be a good thing as some of the species that decline are known to cause inflammation. The researcher plan to explore the possibility that Langerhans cells, which are thought to be the culprit behind HIV infection, are more activated in uncircumcised men.


If the researchers find this to be the case, it won’t necessarily mean that every man should get circumcised. According to Price, ‘The work that we’re doing, by potentially revealing the underlying biological mechanisms, could reveal alternatives to circumcision that would have the same biological impact. In other words, if we find that it’s a group of anaerobes that are increasing the risk for HIV, we can find alternative ways to bring down those anaerobes.’


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