Researchers now have solid evidence that male circumcision protects against three viral sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and say their findings should encourage parents around the world to circumcise their infant boys. A large study in Uganda involving 5,534 men found that those who underwent circumcision as adults were 25 percent less likely to become infected with herpes and more than 30 percent less likely to catch human papillomavirus (HPV) than their uncircumcised peers…. Previous research has shown that circumcision reduces a man’s risk of acquiring HIV by as much as 60 percent [Scientific American].
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, says that the area beneath the foreskin of an uncircumcised male provides the “perfect breeding ground for viruses and bacteria.” It can tear and develop sores easily, and if it becomes inflamed, he said, “it gives you much more fertile ground for HIV to be transmitted” [Scientific American], as well as the herpes and HPV viruses. However, the study did not show protection against syphilis, a bacterial STD.
The French oyster industry has been devastated by the abrupt die-off of juvenile oysters; this summer, oyster farmers watched in dismay as between 40 and 100 percent of their young oysters were wiped out. Now researchers say they’ve found the cause of the mysterious blight: The oysters have been infected with a herpes virus for which there is no known cure.
A warm winter and wet spring left the young oysters especially vulnerable to Oyster Herpesvirus type 1, they say. They matured too fast, feeding on abundant plankton, the scientists say. [French oyster expert Tristan Renault says] that “the animal has been using up a lot of energy developing its genitalia and using a lot less to defend itself” [BBC News].
Odds are, you have it. By the age of 40, nearly 90 percent of adults in the United States have been exposed to the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV1) that causes cold sores. Not everyone who has the virus lurking in their body will have symptoms, but those who do will be annoyed for life by unexpected lip blisters. But now the secret of how the cold sore virus manages to persist for a lifetime in the human body may have been cracked [BBC News], and researchers say their findings may point the way towards a treatment that could kill the virus once and for all.
The virus is a difficult target. When a cold sore appears, it’s easily treatable with a drug that kills the replicating virus, but that drug can’t get to the latent versions of the virus that are hiding within nerve cells and waiting to cause the next eruption. Until now, research has generally concentrated on keeping HSV1 inactive — and preventing cold sores from ever showing up. But [Duke University] researchers took the opposite tack: figuring out precisely how to switch the virus from latency to its active stage. That’s important, says lead author Dr. Bryan Cullen, professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke, “because unless you activate the virus, you can’t kill it” [Time].
When an experiment finds out that a treatment doesn’t work as expected and that a cherished hypothesis just isn’t right, it’s not considered as newsworthy as an amazingly effective treatment that sparkles with potential. But the negative findings are just as important in their contributions to medical knowledge.
In that category, a new study dismisses the theory that treating herpes reduces patients’ risk of HIV infection, a strategy that was believed to hold promise. Researchers wrote in a commentary: It is time to reassess the hypothesis and to adjust prevention policy accordingly [The Lancet, subscription required].