A second New York City Jewish newborn in three months has contracted neonatal herpes from oral suctioning conducted during ritual circumcision, according to New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Conducted by some mohels (circumcisers) in ultra-Orthodox circles, the procedure involves orally sucking away blood from the infant’s genital area after the bris (circumcision). While many mohels use a sterile pipette instead, those who do not risk infecting newborns with herpes simplex virus type 1, which can be fatal for infants and can cause permanent brain or physical damage.
In January 2013, New York’s health department began mandating parents of infants about to undergo ritual Jewish circumcision to sign a consent form permitting mohels to use the oral method, known as metzitzah b’peh. In the recent case of herpes contraction, the parents did not sign that form, The Forward reported. The infant survived, but it is not yet clear whether he sustained any long-term damage.
According to a study published in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in June 2012, one in 4,098 New York City male newborns have either contracted or were probably exposed to the herpes virus. Though this incidence is not high, it is 3.4 times greater than the incidence among newborns outside New York.
Critics of New York’s metzitzah b’peh regulation believe the city is violating the U.S. Constitution by policing the religious rite. Additionally, State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, however, has said the regulation “thrusts the city deeper into a nanny-ocracy that has dubious implications” and is “a deliberate insult to the intelligence and dignity of Orthodox Jews who live in this city.”