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Hospital circumcision rates down; is bad publicity a factor?

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September 02, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Nurse Angie Hagen tends to a newborn baby boy in the nursery at Denver Health medical facility in Denver. Colorado ended coverage for routine circumcisions under Medicaid in July, adding to what's become a national debate over the once widely accepted procedure. Lawmakers agreed to end funding as part of a package of cuts to balance the budget.
Nurse Angie Hagen tends to a newborn baby boy in the nursery at Denver Health… (Ed Andrieski / Associated…)

Hospital circumcision rates are down, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report -- and there doesn't seem to be any clear reason.

The report from the center's weekly report on morbidity and mortality showed that, depending on what numbers you used, hospital circumcision rates from 1999 to 2008 dropped from 62.5% to 56.9% (National Hospital Discharge Survey) or from 63.5% to 56.3% (Nationwide Inpatient Sample). And according to SDIHealth, from 2001 to 2010 the rates dropped from 58.4%  to 54.7%.

Anyway, the point is that they're going down. And that's a surprise, given that hospital circumcision rates were on the upswing in the previous decade.

Circumcision, which involves removing the foreskin from the penis, often at birth, has been a standard practice for Jews and Muslims for centuries. It has come into more widespread use as evidence grew that the practice had hygenic and health benefits.

But the practice has come under fire in recent times, most famously in San Francisco, where advocates attempted to make circumcision illegal (and more locally in Santa Monica, though that attempt soon died). It's considered inhumane by some because it is performed before the child is old enough to make an informed decision on the matter.

It's not clear how much of a dent the bad publicity made (though, as Reuters points out, whether Medicaid covers it in each state may certainly influence those rates). After all, studies have shown that circumcision reduces new infections of HIV in men, as blogged previously on Booster Shots. Scientists think this is because the foreskin folds harbor all sorts of harmful material, including HIV. Some hopes that it would mean reduced risk for women who partner with them, however, have fallen short.

Thus far, the medical professionals have yet to come down on one side or the other; so the best thing to do is read up on the topic. As a kickstart, here's the Mayo Clinic's overview on the subject.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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