Circumcision helps protect men, not women from AIDS

Thu Jul 16, 2009 6:57pm EDT
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Circumcision may help protect men from the AIDS virus but it does not protect the wives and female partners of infected men, researchers reported on Thursday.

The disappointed researchers had to stop the trial, which they had hoped would confirm early suggestions that circumcision would protect men and women alike.

But, they said, circumcision is so effective in protecting men that will still likely benefit women indirectly by reducing circulation of the virus in general.

"We were disappointed that the trial did not show protection from HIV infection in women, as was expected from observational studies," Dr. Maria Wawer of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and colleagues in Uganda wrote in the Lancet medical journal.

"The trial was stopped early because of futility."

AIDS is caused by the fatal and incurable human immunodeficiency virus and is transmitted mostly through sex. It has killed 25 million people since it was identified in the early 1980s and infects an estimated 33 million.

Most cases are in Africa, passed along mainly by sex between men and women. Researchers have demonstrated several times that men who are circumcised are less likely to become infected by female partners.

The foreskin of the penis, which is removed during circumcision, is rich in cells that are particularly easy for the virus to infect. The theory is that removing this source of vulnerable cells makes infection more difficult.   Continued...