Purpose: Remarkable proportions of self-reported virgins and adolescents in eastern and southern Africa are infected with HIV, yet non-sexual routes of transmission have not been systematically investigated in such persons. Many observers in this region have recognized the potential for HIV transmission through unhygienic circumcision procedures. We assessed the relation between male and female circumcision (genital cutting) and prevalent HIV infection in Kenyan, Lesothoan, and Tanzanian virgins and adolescents.
Methods: We analyzed data from recent cross-sectional national probability sample surveys of adolescents and adults in households, focusing on populations in which circumcision was common and usually occurred in puberty or later.
Results: Circumcised male and female virgins were substantially more likely to be HIV infected than uncircumcised virgins (Kenyan females: 3.2% vs. 1.4%, odds ratio [OR] = 2.38; Kenyan males: 1.8% vs. 0%, OR undefined; Lesothoan males: 6.1% vs. 1.9%, OR 3.36; Tanzanian males: 2.9% vs. 1.0%, OR 2.99; weighted mean phi correlation = 0.07, 95% confidence interval, 0.03 to 0.11). Among adolescents, regardless of sexual experience, circumcision was just as strongly associated with prevalent HIV infection. However, uncircumcised adults were more likely to be HIV positive than circumcised adults. Self-reported sexual experience was independently related to HIV infection in adolescent Kenyan females, but was unrelated to HIV infection in adolescent Kenyan, Lesothoan, and Tanzanian males.
Conclusions: HIV transmission may occur through circumcision-related blood exposures in eastern and southern Africa.