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Circumcision and HIV
Oct 12, 2013

Dear Dr Wohl,

I am confused. My understanding is that for a male it is the urethra that is the site of HIV transmission in normal sex. Yet I have read that circumcision reduces the chance of contracting HIV. I cannot see why being circumcised would make any difference. Please enlighten me.

Response from Dr. Wohl

How circumcision reduces HIV transmission has not been completely worked out but a leading theory is that the foreskin harbors germs that can lead to low grade inflammation at the head of the penis. Inflammation means white cells and some white cells are targets for HIV. Further, the skin beneath the foreskin looks smooth and shiny, almost like that of the inside of the urethra or mouth or vagina. Such skin may be more likely to allow HIV to enter the body than the rougher. thicker skin on your hand, or the head of a circumcised penis.

Recognize, circumcision does not eliminate the risk of HIV transmission. It only reduces it. Cut guys can and do get infected and transmit HIV.

DW



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