Circumcision of newborn babies is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish practice known as metzitzah b’peh that dates back more than 5,000 years. The Daily Mail reported that two more babies have been stricken with herpes after the oral blood-sucking circumcision process was performed in New York City.
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There are 13 known cases of herpes contracted from this religious practice, and now there have been two more deaths and two other babies suffering brain damage in New York City in just the last three months after undergoing this controversial religious oral circumcision. The Department of Health has continuously warned that there’s no safe way of performing this type of circumcision.
The process of metzitzah b’peh requires the practitioner to orally suck the baby’s penis in order to thoroughly cleanse the open wound following circumcision, and it’s this process that makes the babies susceptible to the herpes virus. According to the Department of Health, seven days after the procedure, one of the babies who contracted the virus developed a fever and a lesion on its scrotum. The little boy later tested positive for HSV-1, which differs from HSV-2 – which is genital herpes contracted during sexual intercourse.
The Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Jay Varma, issued the following statement to ABC News.
“A herpes infection in a newborn baby has the risk of leading to severe illness and death. The reason is that the baby doesn’t have the same fully developed immune system as an adult. Instead of staying in the genital area, it extends throughout different organs in the body.”
Varma added that at this point it’s too soon to say whether the boys will suffer permanent effects. Unfortunately, because the boy’s parents refused to name the rabbi who performed the circumcision, there’s nothing the Health Department can do.
Modern Jewish practices typically use a pipette or sterile aspiration device in order to clean the wound, instead of the oral sucking method, but other rabbis note the long history of the procedure and stay grounded behind the practice, calling it a religious freedom.
It was just last September that the Health Department agreed that parents should be required to sign consent forms for this practice; however, it is believed the parents of the newly infected boys had not signed the forms.
Rabbi David Zwiebel is the Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Jewish organization known as Agudath Israel America, and he confirmed that at least two-thirds of baby boys born in the Hasidic communities of New York City are circumcised using the oral suction method; however, it has been confirmed by the Health Department that they’ve received complaints in the past from parents who say they were not aware that the oral method would be performed on their son.
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ABC News reported that the most controversial part of this Jewish ritual is that the mohel, or practitioner, places his mouth around the baby’s penis to suck the blood in order to cleanse the wound.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, neo-natal herpes infections can cause disability and even death among infants. Doctor William Schaffner is the Chair of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt University.
“First, these are serious infections in newborns and second, there is no safe way an individual can perform oral suction on an open wound. Third, these terrible infections are completely preventable. They should not occur in the 21st century with our scientific knowledge.”
ABC News was told last year by some rabbis that they were opposed to the law requiring parents to sign a waiver. Their reasoning is that the procedure has been performed tens of thousands of times a year, worldwide, and that safeguarding the child’s life is one of the religion’s highest principles.
“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.”
It’s been estimated that 70 per cent of the general population is already infected with HSV-1, Type I Herpes, which can be transmitted from the child’s mouth, causing painful ulcers.
[Featured Image by Seth Wenig/AP Images]