"Our study shows that circumcised men had 53 percent fewer HIV infections than uncircumcised men," lead study author Robert Bailey, professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), said in a prepared statement.
How the study was done
For the study, which is published in the Feb. 24 issue of The Lancet, researchers followed a group of 2,784 HIV-negative, uncircumcised men aged 18-24 years for two years.
The men were living in Kisumu, Kenya, where an estimated 26 percent of uncircumcised men are infected with HIV by age 25. Most of the men were Luo, a group that does not traditionally practice circumcision.
The researchers assigned half of the men to voluntary circumcision, and the other half remained uncircumcised during the study.
All of the participants received free HIV testing and counseling, medical care, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, condoms and behavioral risk counseling during periodic assessments throughout the study.
Forty-seven of the 1,391 uncircumcised men contracted HIV during the two-year study, compared with 22 of the 1,393 circumcised men.
The risks associated with circumcision were minimal, the researchers said. According to Bailey, 1.7 percent of the circumcision surgeries were associated with minor complications (e.g., bleeding, mild infection), and there were no severe adverse effects
Circumcision is not a condom
Bailey cautioned that there could be a downside to this approach: that circumcised men may feel like they are protected from HIV and may be therefore more likely to engage in risky behavior.
"Circumcision is by no means a natural condom," said Bailey.
But the researchers are hopeful that, when integrated with other prevention and reproductive health services, circumcision may be able to help prevent the spread of HIV.
"This is really the first good news we've had in quite a long time. If we can reduce the risk of infection by such a substantial amount, then we can save a lot of lives," said Bailey.
(HealthDay News, February 2007)