The New York City Board of Health has voted to require ulta-Orthodox Jewish parents to sign a written consent form that warns them about the risk of their sons contracting herpes via direct oral contact from a rabbi during a ritual circumcision.
The move comes after the deaths of two children who contracted the herpes virus through a type of ritual circumcision.
The ritual featuring the direct oral contact is commonplace in parts of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, although it is rarer in other branches of Judaism.
The 5,000-year-old religious practice of circumcision, known as the bris, is performed as a religious ceremony.
The most controversial part of the ritual, known as “metzitzah b’peh,” the mohel, or practitioner , places his mouth around the baby’s penis to suck the blood to “cleanse” the wound.
City officials, however, say the measures the mohel takes in order to prevent infection, which include rinsing with Listerine before the procedure, sterilizing tools, scrubbing hands with surgical soap and being tested annually for pathogens, are insufficient.
The main concern with the procedure is the transmitting of oral herpes, which is present in some 70 percent of the city’s adult population, and can cause fatal infections in babies.
In 2003 and 2004, three babies, including a set of twins, were infected with Type 1 herpes; the cases were linked to circumcision, and one boy died. Another died in 2010.
In the last decade, 11 babies in the city have contracted the virus, and two have suffered brain damage, according to health officials.
“This is a ritual… that’s come down through the ages, and now it has met modern science,” Dr. William Schaffner said. “It was never a good idea, and there is a better way to do this.”
The modern Jewish community uses a sterile aspiration device or pipette to clean the wound in a circumcision.
About two-thirds of boys born in New York City’s Hasidic communities are circumcised utilizing the oral suction method.
The measure, which Mayor Bloomberg strongly supports, is the first of its kind calling for action against the ritual in the United States.