A new study offers some explanation of how circumcision can help reduce the risk of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
According to the Los Angeles Times, previous studies have shown that being circumcised can reduce a man's risk of contracting HIV by at least 50 percent. Now, researchers from the Translational Genomics Research Institute have discovered that foreskin removal helps keep harmful bacteria at bay.
Reduction in bacteria
Scientists studied 156 men in Uganda for the trial, half of whom were circumcised as a part of the study. Those who underwent the procedure were tested for bacteria on the penis before being circumcised as well as one year later. While most had similar communities of microbes before the procedure, afterward the number of bacteria present was dramatically reduced in the circumcised men. In fact, researchers showed that men who were circumcised as part of the study had 33.3 percent less bacteria on their penis than those who remained uncircumcised one year after the study began.
Additionally, the research showed that the decrease was primarily found in 12 types of bacteria, most of which were intolerant to oxygen.
"We think that these dramatic changes in the penis microbiome may explain, at least in part, why male circumcision is protective," said researcher Lance Price, Ph.D.
Scientists stated that the reduction in bacteria allows the immune system a better chance at fighting off infections, such as HIV.
"Even though disturbances of the microbiome are usually portrayed as negative, such as in colitis and yeast infection after antibiotic use, this may be one place where dramatic changes can be protective," Price added.
However, the study's investigators stated that further studies are needed to determine whether eliminating bacteria can help keep HIV at bay, especially among heterosexual men.
Prevalence of HIV
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 1 million Americans living with HIV in the U.S., with a new case being diagnosed nearly every 10 minutes. As many as 20 percent of infected individuals do not know they have the virus.
In general, health officials recommend an annual HIV test for anyone who has had unprotected sex with multiple or anonymous partners, as well as those who have had sex with individuals who did not know their HIV status. Individuals with a history of STDs are also advised to be tested at least once a year.
However, individuals are encouraged to speak with a medical professional to determine how often they should be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.