Baby Dies of Herpes in Ritual Circumcision by Orthodox Jews
I am really disgusted by this. How is this not considered to be pedophilia? I almost threw up...
New York City is investigating the death last September of a baby who
contracted herpes after a "ritual circumcision with oral suction," in an
ultra-Orthodox Jewish ceremony known in Hebrew as metzitzah b'peh.
In a practice that takes place during a ceremony known as the bris, a
circumcision practitioner, or mohel, removes the foreskin from the
baby's penis, and with his mouth sucks the blood from the incision to
cleanse the wound.
The district attorney's office in Kings County Brooklyn is investigating
the death of the 2-week-old baby at Maimonides Hospital, but would not
disclose the name of the mohel or whether there would be a prosecution.
"We are looking into it, that's all I can say," a D.A. source told ABCNews.com.
The 5,000-year-old religious practice is seen primarily in
ultra-Orthodox and some orthodox communities and has caused an alarm
among city health officials. In 2003 and 2004, three babies, including a
set of twins, were infected with Type 1 herpes; the cases were linked
to circumcision, and one boy died.
The mohel who performed the procedures, Yitzchok Fischer, was later banned from doing circumcisions, according to The New York Times. It is not known if he was involved in this recent death.
"It's certainly not something any of us recommend in the modern
infection-control era," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive
medicine at Vanderbilt University.
"This is a ritual of historic Abraham that's come down through the ages,
and now it has met modern science," he said. "It was never a good idea,
and there is a better way to do this." (The modern Jewish community
uses a sterile aspiration device to clean the wound in a circumcision.)
In the 2004 death and the more recent one, a mohel infected the penile
wounds with Type 1 herpes I (HSV-1), which affects the mouth and throat.
It is different from Type 2 or genital herpes (HSV-2), which is a
sexually transmitted disease and can cause deadly infections when a
newborn passes through an infected birth canal.
Neonatal herpes is "almost always" a fatal infection, according to
Schaffner. "It's a bad virus. [Infants] have no immunity and so it's a
very serious illness. Now we have another death -- an unnecessary,
incredibly tragic death."
Infections are rare, according to a 2009 study in the New England
Journal of Medicine, affecting only one infant in 3,200 births. But it
is a serious infection, with a fatality rate of about 64 percent even
with antiviral treatment. And fewer than 20 percent of those who survive
Schaffner was a medical consultant in the 2004 death of the twin, when
city and state officials butted heads with religious leaders who
defended their freedom to continue the traditional practice.
"Unfortunately, adults can carry the herpes virus without any symptoms,"
he said. "Applying the mouth to an open wound can transmit the virus,
which can disseminate throughout the body of the infant."
Type 1 herpes is common, and 90 percent of all Americans have
experienced infection by the age of 50, the vast majority without
symptoms, according to Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases.
About two-thirds of all infant boys born in New York City's Hasidic
communities, who are ultra-Orthodox, are circumcised in the oral suction
manner, according to Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of
Agudath Israel of America.
"Of course the community is deeply saddened by this terrible tragedy," he wrote to ABCNews.com in an email.
"We really don't know any of the details as yet," he wrote. "Who was the
mohel? Did he take the hygienic precautions prescribed by the NYC
Health Department in the 2006 protocol it entered with rabbinic leaders
of the Orthodox community, which are designed to reduce the risk of
"Did health officials perform the type of investigation described in the
protocols to ascertain the source of the infection? What were the
results of any such investigation? It is difficult for us (and should be
difficult for anyone else) to comment publicly on this tragedy or to
draw any firm conclusions."
Zwiebel said the Orthodox community was "increasingly attuned" to health risks and to the importance of following safety steps.
Earlier this week, he told the New York Times that mohels were aware of the health risks and hygienic practices and warned that regulation could send them "underground."
But New York's The Jewish Week exclusively reports
that the protocols that were agreed upon by a "broad array" of orthodox
rabbis and health officials after the 2004 death were rescinded only a
year later in 2007.
The city required one of three things, at the mohel's option: continue
abstaining from the practice until he could be ruled out as the source
of infection; agree to take anti-viral medication for the rest of his
life; or take medication for three days before the circumcision.
The state health department dropped those protocols when a new governor
--- then Democrat Eliot Spitzer -- took office and a new health
commissioner was appointed.
The newspaper reports that the metzitzah b'peh practice is still "in widespread use."
The numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews
are growing rapidly, according to a study by University of Florida
geography professor Joshua Comenetz, mostly because they have so many
He completed the first population survey based on the 2010 U.S. Census,
estimating there were about 180,000 or 3 percent of the total number of
Jews in the U.S.
In New York City, home to about 100,000 Orthodox Jews, the communities
are reclusive, but they're also powerful voting blocks. Public officials
try to work closely with their leaders to educate them about modern
health practices and to encourage changes in a religious practice that
is largely unregulated.
"Reluctance is a matter of respect," said Schaffner. "But then we have the occasional infant who succumbs."
If the mohel has an infection in the mouth and throat, the virus is
transmitted to a baby's circumcision wound directly through saliva. From
an inflamed wound, it can get into the bloodstream and travel to the
brain, causing dangerous encephalitis and either brain damage or death.
The herpes virus is so contagious that when medical professionals give
mouth care to patients, they wear gloves, according to Schaffner.
"If they don't, nicks around the nails can be infected with the
patient's herpes virus," he said. "They can get bad infections on the
During the investigation of the 2004 death, rabbis proposed health
safeguards, "but none of them provide assurances of safety," according
One was to use an antiviral medication on the infant's wound, treatments
that have not been tested for that purpose. The other was to use an
antibiotic cream, which is ineffective against a virus.
"The standard is looking for zero infection and even if there is one,
it's unacceptable," said Schaffner. "[The orthodox community] has a hard
time getting their brains around this. The ancients are simply wrong
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