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Friday, 4 December, 1998, 02:38 GMT
Circumcision 'has little value'
Circumcision can be traumatic for a baby
Circumcision of newborn boys does lower the risk of urinary tract infection (UTI), scientists have found.

However, they say the risk of such infection may be less than previously estimated.

Researchers from Toronto, Canada, studied nearly 60,000 boys born in Ontario between April 1993 and March 1994.

Of those, 29,217 babies were circumcised before the age of one month.

Hospital discharge data was used to identify all children with UTI admitted to hospital up to March 1996.

Improved hygiene

There were 83 cases of UTI among the circumcised boys during the follow-up period, compared with 247 among those who had not been circumcised.

The risk of UTI was therefore 3.7 times higher in the uncircumcised boys.

However, the researchers, writing in the Lancet medical journal, calculated that to prevent one admission for UTI, 195 boys would have to undergo the procedure of circumcision.

Previous studies have suggested that uncircumcised boys have a risk of UTI 4.8 to 39 times higher than circumcised boys.

However, the groups of babies studied in the previous investigations were not as representative of the general population as the large group studied by the Toronto team.

Jewish people have religious grounds for circumcision
Improved hygiene is often given as a reason for circumcision, as the warm moist mucosal environment under the foreskin favours growth of micro-organisms.

However, many doctors believe there is no medical justification for the operation.

The removal of the foreskin is a surgical procedure that carries a risk of haemorrhage, infection and mutilation. There is a one in 500 risk of serious complications.

Once the foreskin is removed, the glans, or head of the penis is no longer protected from urine and faeces, and small ulcerations can form around the urinary opening.

Circumcision is also associated with a loss of sensitivity in the penis.

It was thought that babies felt no pain during circumcision as they had immature nervous systems. However, research has shown that babies do experience physical and psychological stress, both during the operation and for hours after.

Dr Teresa To, one of the scientists who carried out the study, said: "While our study showed a protective effect of circumcision against admissions for UTI, the effect is much smaller than previously noted.

"In addition, the incidence of admissions for UTI is low in the general population of normal healthy male infants.

"Therefore, it appears that circumcising a baby boy solely for the benefit of lowering the risk of hospital admission for UTI may be medically unnecessary."

See also:

04 Nov 98 | Health
Transplanting the male organ
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