Two More Infants Have Contracted Herpes After “Oral Suction Circumcision” Ritual

Raising the infection count to 13, two more infant males in New York City have contracted the herpes virus after an oral-suction circumcision (metzitzah b’peh) was performed on them. Of these 13 cases, two have resulted in brain damage and two ended in the death of the infected.

Metzitzah b’peh, or “oral-suction circumcision”, is a Jewish circumcision ritual among the ultra-Orthodox community in which after the mohel removes the foreskin, oral suction is used to clear the wound of blood. This practice is a highly respected tradition among some small observant groups, it is codified in Jewish scripts along with circumcision itself.

Herpes is known to cause sores in up to 50% of today’s U.S. adult population; it is often mild and tolerable, but in infants, herpes will not stay local to the genital area. Herpes in a baby will spread throughout the body, causing severe illnesses and even death.

Since this past September, the NYC health department has required parents to sign consent forms that note they are aware of the potential risks of oral suction circumcision following the deaths of two children who contracted herpes from the practice. The health department warns that direct oral suctioning can lead to brain damage, lifelong disability, or death, with no way to completely prevent these complications besides withholding from the practice. 

The translation of “metzitzah” suggests suction, not specifically oral, so many religious authorities within the Jewish community have approved different means of suction. Including glass tubes, glass tubes connected to rubber bulbs, sponges, or sterile gauze,  these alternatives are a safe way of suctioning the blood away from the circumcision wound without exposing the child to disease while still falling under the religious guidelines that require suction.

The parents of the newly reported victims have said that they did not sign the consent form to acknowledge the risks of the ritual, and Daily Mail reports that in the past the health department claims they have received complaints from parents saying they weren’t aware the oral suctioning would be occurring in the first place.

The identity of the mohel who performed the ritual is being currently being withheld by the infants’ parents at the time, preventing involvement by the health department. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control at the NYC department of health ABC News that it’s too soon to tell if the infected children will suffer permanent effects.

For more information surrounding infant male circumcision, see It’s Time to Talk About Male Circumcision 

For more information about Metzitzah B’peh, see Safe Bris 

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