The objective of the study was to compare rates of adverse events (AEs) related to male circumcision (MC) in HIV-positive and HIV-negative men in order to provide guidance for MC programs that may provide services to HIV-infected and uninfected men.
Methods and Findings
A total of 2,326 HIV-negative and 420 HIV-positive men (World Health Organization [WHO] stage I or II and CD4 counts > 350 cells/mm3) were circumcised in two separate but procedurally identical trials of MC for HIV and/or sexually transmitted infection prevention in rural Rakai, Uganda. Participants were followed at 1–2 d and 5–9 d, and at 4–6 wk, to assess surgery-related AEs, wound healing, and resumption of intercourse. AE risks and wound healing were compared in HIV-positive and HIV-negative men. Adjusted odds ratios (AdjORs) were estimated by multiple logistic regression, adjusting for baseline characteristics and postoperative resumption of sex. At enrollment, HIV-positive men were older, more likely to be married, reported more sexual partners, less condom use, and higher rates of sexually transmitted disease symptoms than HIV-negative men. Risks of moderate or severe AEs were 3.1/100 and 3.5/100 in HIV-positive and HIV-negative participants, respectively (AdjOR 0.91, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.47–1.74). Infections were the most common AEs (2.6/100 in HIV-positive versus 3.0/100 in HIV-negative men). Risks of other complications were similar in the two groups. The proportion with completed healing by 6 wk postsurgery was 92.7% in HIV-positive men and 95.8% in HIV-negative men (p = 0.007). AEs were more common in men who resumed intercourse before wound healing compared to those who waited (AdjOR 1.56, 95% CI 1.05–2.33).
Overall, the safety of MC was comparable in asymptomatic HIV-positive and HIV-negative men, although healing was somewhat slower among the HIV infected. All men should be strongly counseled to refrain from intercourse until full wound healing is achieved.
Trial registration: http://www.ClinicalTrials.gov; for HIV-negative men, #NCT00047073 and for HIV-positive men, #NCT00047073.
Ron Gray and colleagues report on complications of circumcision in HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected men from two related trials in Uganda, finding increased risk with intercourse before wound healing.
Worldwide over 33 million people are thought to be living with HIV, and in the absence of a vaccine, preventing its spread is a major health issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate that 68% of 2.5 million new infections worldwide in 2007 took place in sub-Saharan Africa, where 76% of 2.1 million AIDS-related deaths also took place.
One of the principal means of person-to-person transmission of HIV is through sex without the protection of a condom. In parts of Africa, male circumcision is performed in infancy or childhood for religious or cultural reasons or is a traditional rite of passage that marks the transition from child to man. Three trials, in South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda, each found that circumcised men were around half as likely as uncircumcised men to contract HIV from HIV-positive female partners. After reviewing the results, WHO and UNAIDS issued joint advice that male circumcision should be promoted for preventing HIV infection in heterosexual men. As male circumcision does not provide complete protection against HIV infection, they advised that it should be promoted in addition to existing strategies of promoting condom use, abstinence, and a reduction in the number of sexual partners.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although earlier studies had shown that adult male circumcision, when performed in Africa under optimal conditions, is a safe procedure for HIV-negative men, it was not known whether it would also be a safe procedure for HIV-positive men. WHO guidelines recommend that HIV-positive men who request the procedure or have a medical need and no contraindications for it should be circumcised. Also, exclusion of HIV-positive men from circumcision programs may result in stigmatization of these men, and discourage participation by men who do not wish to be tested for HIV. Therefore, it is important to know whether the procedure is safe for HIV-positive men.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The authors compared results from two separate clinical trials carried out with identical procedures in rural Rakai, Uganda. The first, which compared the effect of circumcision with no circumcision in HIV-negative men, was one of the three trials that persuaded the WHO and UNAIDS to promote male circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy. The second Rakai trial did the same comparison but in men who were HIV positive and without symptoms. In this present study, the authors used data from both trials to compare the likelihood of surgery-related complications following circumcision for HIV-negative and HIV-positive men.
The trials recruited men aged 15–49, who were randomly assigned to be circumcised either on enrollment or two years later and were followed up to monitor complications related to the procedure, such as infections, as well as wound healing and when the participant first had sex after the operation. Condom use was recorded at enrollment and six months after enrollment.
The researchers found that most complications were infrequent, mild, and comparable in both groups, with moderate-to-severe complications occurring in only 3%–4% of men in each group. However, delayed wound healing was more frequent in HIV-positive men. Complications were more likely among men who had sex before healing was complete; such men were more likely to be HIV-positive and/or married. Similarly, moderate or severe complications were more likely where men had symptoms of sexually transmitted disease at enrollment, although these were treated before surgery, and these men were more likely to be HIV-positive. Six months after enrollment, similar proportions of HIV-positive and HIV-negative men used condoms consistently, but HIV-positive men were more likely to report using condoms inconsistently than HIV-negative men. However, consistent use of a condom increased among the HIV-positive men compared to when they enrolled.
What Do these Findings Mean?
Circumcision in HIV-positive men without symptoms of AIDS has a low rate of complications, although healing is slower than in HIV-negative men. Because of the greater risk of complications if sex is resumed before full healing, both men and their women partners should be advised to have no sex for at least six weeks after the operation. A separately reported analysis from one of these studies found that women partners are more likely to become HIV infected by HIV-positive men who resume sex prior to complete wound healing. Therefore, for protection of both men and their female partners, it is essential to refrain from intercourse after circumcision until the wound has completely healed.
Because the study found no increased risk of surgical complications in HIV-positive men who undergo circumcision, it should not be necessary to screen men with no symptoms of HIV in future circumcision programs. This should reduce the complexity of implementing such programs and reduce any stigma resulting from exclusion, making it likely that more men will be willing to be circumcised. The rise in consistent condom use among HIV-positive men suggests that messages of safe sex are reaching an important target group and changing their behavior, and that circumcision does not make men less likely to use a condom.
The authors also noted that the rates of complications they observed were low compared with those following traditional circumcision procedures. Others have found that circumcision carried out under unsafe conditions has a high rate of complications. The authors of this study comment that the resources and standards of surgery during the trial represented best practice and that to attain similarly low rates of complications—and the confidence of men in the safety of the procedure—there is a need to ensure sufficient resources and high standards of training.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050116.
WHO and the UNAIDS issued a joint report recommending male circumcision for HIV prevention and another on the HIV epidemic worldwide in December 2007
An information pack here on male circumcision and HIV prevention has also been developed jointly by WHO/UNAIDS, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Bank
The University of California San Francisco's HIV InSite provides information on HIV prevention, treatment, and policy
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The National AIDS Trust provides information on HIV prevention