New York baby contracts herpes from circumcision rite

NYC Board of Health reports infant hospitalized due to infection from mohel sucking blood directly from wound

Illustrative: A baby after the brit milah ceremony (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Illustrative: A baby after the brit milah ceremony (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The New York City Board of Health reported a new case of neonatal herpes as a result of a controversial circumcision rite known as metzitzah b’peh.

City health officials sent out an alert to doctors Wednesday about the case and urged them to report other cases, according to reports.

The infant in the new case was hospitalized for 14 days and was reported to be ­recovering, according to reports.

Metzitzah b’peh is a ritual in which the person performing the circumcision, known as a mohel, sucks blood from the wound directly with the mouth following circumcision. It is a common practice among some ultra-Orthodox Jews and has been linked directly to the transmission of the herpes virus. Many Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews instead request that the mohel use a sterile pipette to avoid direct contact, which minimizes the risk of infection.

Some 24 cases of herpes allegedly contracted through metzitzah b’peh have been reported in New York since 2000, according to the board of health.

There were three cases in 2015 and two cases in 2016 that were not made public until Wednesday, according to health officials.

A law requiring parents to sign a consent form for metzitzah b’peh was enacted in 2012 under mayor Michael Bloomberg after at least 11 boys contracted herpes from the practice between 2004 and 2011. Two died and two suffered brain damage.

For the most part, however, the law was not enforced and city officials have been using community outreach to educate parents about herpes and other health risks associated with the rite.

The Board of Health repealed the consent form in September 2015 under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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