Second Jewish Infant Contracts Herpes From Controversial Circumcision Rite

Despite Lack of Consent Forms, City Won't Press Case

haaretz

By Seth Berkman

Published April 04, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
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Another Jewish newborn — the second in three months — has contracted neonatal herpes due to a controversial oral suctioning technique employed during ritual circumcision, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has reported.

The parents of the child did not sign a recently mandated city consent form authorizing the mohel who conducted the circumcision to employ the technique, known as metzitzah b’peh, or MBP, the department has told the Forward. The parents, whom the department does not name, have additionally declined to identify the mohel, who it appears acted as a carrier of the virus.

The MBP-related herpes case, which the department disclosed in an April 3 email alert, is the first such case to emerge since January, when the city began requiring mohels who perform MBP to first have parents sign a consent form permitting them to do so. But Jean Weinberg, a department spokesperson, said the agency would not pursue legal action in the case, with out elaborating. This may leave the mohel free to infect other children, as some have in the past, according to previous reports by health authorities.

In the meantime, according to the agency, the infant has survived. A city department source said that the case had occurred “too recently” to know whether the boy had sustained any long-term physical or cognitive harm.

MBP, a procedure practiced by some ultra-Orthodox mohels, involves a mohel orally sucking away the blood from the infant’s genital area after cutting off his foreskin during the bris, or ritual circumcision. The practice can infect newborns with herpes simplex virus type 1, according to medical authorities. It’s a virus that, while not serious for adults, can be fatal for infants, or cause permanent cognitive or physical damage. Most mohels in this country use a sterile pipette for for suctioning the blood. But many ultra-Orthodox mohels consider direct suction of the genital area by mouth to be mandated by the Talmud as part of the religious rite.

While rare, the incidence of this virus among New York City male newborns with confirmed or probable exposure to MBP — one in 4,098 — is 3.4 times greater than among newborns outside this group, according to a study published in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in June 2012.

The health department reports 13 cases of MBP-related herpes since November 2000, including this most recent one. But recently, a senior rabbinic authority at Yeshiva University alleged that the city health agency, and some New York City hospitals, actively suppress the number of cases.

Rabbi Herschel Schachter, the influential Y.U. rabbinical leader who made the charge publicly, cited his own daughter, who, he said, works as a nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, as his source.


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