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In a public lecture last February in London, Schachter, who is a rosh yeshiva, or senior chief rabbinic authority, at Y.U.’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, claimed that his daughter’s hospital treated three cases per year of Hasidic babies infected with herpes. The infections were “obvously because of metzitzah b’peh,” Schachter told his audience, citing his daughter.
Schachter also cited his daughter as claiming that there are, in fact, about 15 such cases per year in the city, including the three cases or so she claimed per year at her own hospital. Schachter said his daughter explained that the hospitals do not report these cases because Hasidic clients would not return if they were made public. Schachter’s remarks were first posted March 14 on the website Failed Messiah and authenticated by the Forward.
Representatives from New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center have refused repeated requests to respond to this allegation, as has the city health department.
In contrast, Brooklyn’s Maimonides Hospital, which has perhaps the largest clientele of Orthodox patients in the city, strongly denied Schachter’s allegation.
Eileen Tynion, assistant vice president of public relations at Maimonides, wrote in an email, “Like all hospitals, Maimonides is required to report cases of infant herpes to the DOH, and we remain in compliance at all times with that requirement.” In September 2011, a 2-week-old boy died at Maimonides after contracting herpes following MBP, according to the city medical examiner.
Efforts to reach Schachter and his daughter were unsuccessful.
Jonathan Zenilman, a leading doctor at Johns Hopkins University, said it is possible that hospitals are underreporting neonatal herpes infections, but doubted this would occur at New York Presbyterian, where the pediatrics department is chaired by Lawrence Stanberry, whom Zenilman termed “one of the world experts on neonatal herpes.”
“Columbia would certainly abide by the rules,” said Zenilman.
Dr. Michael Paasche-Orlow, associate professor of medicine at Boston University, noted in an email to the Forward that hospitals send specimens for suspected cases of neonatal herpes to their laboratories, which should report directly to the city health department when their tests confirm a case. He doubted that the labs, which are required by city regulations to report such cases for infants younger than 60 days old, would fail to do so. But he added that it was possible that “clinicians would not think to test or even be hesitant to test in some scenarios,” which would be “quite unfortunate.”
Asked about the refusal of New York Presbyterian and the city to respond to Schachter’s allegation, Paasche-Orlow said, “Where allegations are being made by a public figure within a community regarding the health implications of a traditional cultural practice — and that the allegation relates to a purported cover-up — it is quite unfortunate for the major health providers to stay quiet.”
Contact Seth Berkman at firstname.lastname@example.org