At least four infants have contracted Herpes, a potentially fatal viral disease, since last September.
All after undergoing a circumcision during which the circumciser placed their mouth on the genital wound.
A seldom-practiced religious ritual has led to a cluster of herpes cases among infants.
Last September, health officials issued a public health alert about the practice, known as metzitzah b’peh, following a case of neonatal herpes reported to the New York City Health Department.
However, three more cases documented in NYC since December.
The infants were all hospitalized and received two weeks of intense antiviral therapy and are now recovering.
Jewish Circumcision Ritual
Jewish circumcision nowadays rarely involves any oral contact between the baby’s genitals and the circumciser, or mohel, and is actively discouraged by the community at large.
But the ancient practice of suction to cleanse the wound is still performed within some ultra-orthodox communities.
Since April 2006, there have been 19 other documented herpes cases related to circumcision, excluding the current wave of cases.
There have been several deaths and cases of irreparable brain damage linked to circumcision-related herpes in the city since 2000.
Many Jewish parents may not even know about the health risks of the ritual. And there are still ways to reduce the risk of transmission, such as the mohel using alcohol-containing mouthwash immediately before the ceremony.
There are two species of virus that can cause herpes:
- herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), oral herpes, most common, affecting over half the U.S. population
- herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), genital herpes
Most people with HSV-1 never experience any symptoms, but in infants, an infection can be life-threatening and require urgent care.