To circumcise or not to circumcise?

For the parents of newborn boys, one of the first- and often most challenging-choices is whether to have him circumcised.

While the decision is still greatly influenced by a family’s religious, cultural or ethical beliefs, recent studies are showing clear health benefits to infant circumcision.

The journal Archives of Pediatric& Adolescent Medicine recently published an article reviewing several studies on circumcision and sexually transmitted diseases.

The risk of exposure to HIV dropped 53 percent in circumcised men. The risk of contracting herpes type 2 and the human papillomavirus (HPV) were reduced as well. Female partners of circumcised men also benefited by a reduced risk of bacterial vaginosis.

Circumcised boys also experience easier genital hygiene and fewer foreskin infections, the journal noted. Circumcised infants have a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting a urinary tract infection, versus a 1 in 100 chance for uncircumcised babies.

A majority of the studies reviewed were conducted in developing countries, where STD rates are significantly higher than in the United States. While the societal and medical cost savings of circumcising babies in developing countries is clear, says Dr. Michael Brady, the savings may not be as clear in a developed country.

Brady, who chairs the Department of Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, says there needs to be more research on the U.S. population before newborn circumcision becomes routine practice.

For now, physicians should inform parents of the most recent data, but also respect their personal wishes, Brady says. Even with the data, he concedes, it’s not always an easy decision for parents to make.

“It is difficult for a parent to look at their newborn and have concerns about future sexual activity,” he says. “But that doesn’t preclude them from listening to the information.”

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