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6 Babies Have Gotten Herpes From Circumcision Since City Eased Health Rules

By Nicole Levy | March 9, 2017 5:10pm | Updated on March 10, 2017 9:45am

NEW YORK CITY — There have been six reported cases of infant herpes linked to circumcisions in the three years since the city eased rules that regulated ultra-Orthodox Jewish practitioners who clean the wound with their mouth, city health officials said Wednesday. 

The controversial ritual, known among the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as metzitzah b’peh, calls for a trained devotee or "mohel" to clean circumcision wounds by oral suction during a bris, or circumcision.

There have been several cases of baby boys being diagnosed with herpes after a bris — most recently when city health officials revealed on Wednesday that an infant had been admitted to inpatient care with a rash and blisters on his genitals, buttocks, inner thigh and ankle after being circumcised in that manner at 8 days old.

Laboratory tests and symptomatology pointed to transmission of the herpes simplex virus by bris, city health department officials said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the incident at an unrelated press conference Wednesday.

"We’re right now in the process of identifying the mohel and we expect full cooperation from the community,” de Blasio said, "“We literally heard about this case at some point in the afternoon yesterday [Tuesday]."

The Health Department is currently in touch with the baby's family, but has yet to identify the mohel who performed his ritual circumcision, a spokesperson said Thursday evening.

Two similar cases were reported in 2016 and three in 2015, the year that the city's Board of Health — under de Blasio's direction — voted to ease regulations on the oral post-circumcision practices that leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community called an infringement on religious freedom

Under the Bloomberg administration, Jewish parents were required to sign a consent form before the controversial ritual, which has been linked to two deaths and two cases of brain damage since 2000. 

In 2015, the city's Health Department took a new tack, distributing pamphlets and posters warning of the procedure's risks to doctors and hospitals serving Orthodox families.

"Despite these efforts, parents of case-patients infected have not reported seeing the pamphlet or poster," health officials said in Wednesday's alert.

Jewish leaders, in return, committed to helping the city identify rabbis who had transmitted the herpes virus to infants via oral suction and remove them from their roles as mohels.

There have been a total of 18 cases of infant herpes linked to ritual circumcisions since 2006, when health providers were first mandated to report infections.

The Health Department is in touch with the family