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Two Infants Contract Herpes Following Circumcision, With One Testing Positive For HSV

Two Infants Contract Herpes Following Circumcision
New York City said two infant boys in the area's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community contracted herpes following a religious ceremony some find controversial. CDC.gov

Two infant boys contracted herpes with one testing positive for HSV following ritual circumcisions, the New York City Department of Health said yesterday.

Denizens of the city's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, the boys were not identified. Both were circumcised in the Jewish ritual known as metzitzah b'peh, whereby the practitioner, or mohel, places his mouth around the baby's penis to suck the blood to "cleanse" the wound.

One of the two developed a fever and lesion on his scrotum a week after the ceremony, the health department said.

Although the city now requires parents to sign a written consent form acknowledging the health risks of the practice, none of the parents of the two boys signed the form, said Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

He said it was "too early to tell" if the babies would suffer long-term health consequences from the infection.

The city last year began requiring parents to sign the consent form to perform the ritual, following a string of health incidents since 2000 that included 13 cases of herpes with two resulting in brain damage and two others in death. Neonatal herpes can cause death or serious disability among infants.

Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told media there is no safe way to practice the ritual. "These terrible infections are completely preventable," he said. "They should not occur in the 21st century with our scientific knowledge."

Some rabbis defend the long-standing practice as one performed tens of thousands of times per year around the world, with the safety of the child of paramount concern.

Last year when the city enacted the informed consent law, Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the Hasidic United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, told ABC News, "This is the government forcing a rabbi practicing a religious ritual to tell his congregants it could hurt their child."

"If, God forbid, there was a danger, we would be the first to stop the practice."

Jewish Week reported earlier in the week that one of the mothers, who was not identified, denied receiving a consent form to sign.

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