STDs May Change Stance on Circumcision

Study affirms circumcision's benefits, leaving insurance, doctors at odds.

ByABC News
March 25, 2009, 6:22 PM

March 26, 2009— -- Some doctors are calling for a slight change in America's thinking about circumcision after the latest -- and largest -- study in a series of investigations in Africa showed that circumcision may significantly reduce the risk of contracting herpes and HPV.

Doctors followed 5,534 men in the rural Rakai region of Uganda, periodically surveying their sexual risk-taking behavior. Half the participants were immediately circumcised, while the other half remained uncircumcised until the end of the study.

Over two years, the men who were circumcised had a 28 percent reduced risk of infection with the herpes virus and a 35 percent reduction in HPV infection. An author of the study called it a "double whammy" of an effect for women's health, too.

"Men are at risk for genital warts and things like discharge. Women are at risk for cancer," said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a co-author of the study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"The idea that you can prevent HPV in the male, then you would almost certainly, although not formally proven, prevent the male from infecting an uninfected female," he said.

In an accompanying editorial, authors of the study beg the question of whether Medicaid should uniformly cover circumcision across the country. As of now, Medicaid in 16 states does not cover circumcision, and more private insurance companies are following suit.

"Data like this may then sway the opinion of leaders," said Fauci. "It may actually have an impact on certain policy decision in the United States."