The practice of "oral-genital suction" performed during some Orthodox Jewish circumcision ceremonies could leave the infant with a potentially fatal herpes virus infection, health officials warn.
New York City and federal health authorities issued a public advisory Thursday cautioning against the sucking practice because it has been linked to 11 infants becoming infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1 since 2000. Ten of the infected newborns were hospitalized, two developed brain damage and two died, the health officials said.
A newborn can become infected when the adult performing the circumcision places his mouth on the circumcision wound to siphon blood away from the cut. The ritual is only embraced by a handful of sects within the Orthodox Jewish community, according to New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.
"There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn," Farley said in a news release. "Parents considering ritual Jewish circumcision need to know that circumcision should only be performed under sterile conditions, like any other procedures that create open cuts, whether by mohelim [the circumciser] or medical professionals."
A report on the infections also appears in the June 8 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Almost 80 percent of adults carry the herpes simplex virus type 1, which is usually spread orally through common activities and is different from the sexually transmitted type 2 version of the virus. The common cold sore is a typical sign of infection with the herpes simplex virus type 1, but most people don't know they are infected because they have no history of symptoms, officials said.
In six of the 11 circumcision cases, health care providers confirmed that the suction ritual had taken place, although there was evidence of a connection in the other five cases. The ritual more than tripled the risk of infection among newborns getting circumcised, the CDC report stated.