Two infants contract herpes following circumcision

After undergoing an orthodox circumcision ritual, two infant boys have contracted herpes, the New York City Department of Health said yesterday.

The two boys, members of the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, were circumcised in the Jewish ritual known as metzitzah b'peh, in which the practitioner, or mohel, places his mouth around the baby’s penis to “cleanse” the wound and suck away blood, Medical Daily reported.

A week after the ceremony, one of the boys developed a fever and a lesion on his scrotum, according to the health department.

In 2000, the city began requiring parents to sign consent forms acknowledging the health risks of this practice following a string of incidents that included 13 cases of herpes, with two resulting in brain damage and two others in death, according to Medical Daily.

None of the parents of the two boys signed these forms, said Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. One of the mothers, who was not identified, denied receiving a consent form to sign, Jewish Week reported.

Varma said it was “too early to tell” if the babies would suffer long-term health consequences from the infection. Neonatal herpes can cause death or serious health issues among infants.

Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told media there is no safe way to practice this kind of ritual. "These terrible infections are completely preventable," he said. "They should not occur in the 21st century with our scientific knowledge.”

Some rabbis have defended the long-standing practice.

After the city enacted the informed consent law last year, Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the Hasidic United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, told ABC News, "This is the government forcing a rabbi practicing a religious ritual to tell his congregants it could hurt their child."

"If, God forbid, there was a danger, we would be the first to stop the practice," he added.

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