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Circumcision changes penis biology

Altered mix of microbes might reduce susceptibility to viral infections

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2:41pm, April 19, 2013

Uncircumcised men harbor more bacteria around the head of the penis than do circumcised men, and the mix of microbial species is decidedly different in the two groups, researchers find.

Whether these changes in microbial numbers and diversity explain why circumcised men are less likely to get infected with HIV remains unclear. But the findings identify previously unknown differences that exist between a warm, moist environment under the foreskin and the comparatively dry surfaces found on circumcised men.

“It’s a very promising line of research,” says Robert Bailey, a biologist and epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who wasn’t part of the study team. “But it’s far from really providing the story on the mechanism for the increased risk of HIV infection through the foreskin.”

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