CDC: 11 infants contracted herpes due to controversial Jewish circumcision practice

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(CBS News) Part of a rare ultra Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual may be putting infants at risk of contracting herpes, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In New York City between November 2000 and December 2011, a total of 11 newborn males were infected by the herpes simplex virus in the weeks following an out-of-hospital Jewish ritual circumcision, known as a bris. Ten of the babies were hospitalized and one died.

Controversial circumcision ritual led to infant's death from herpes, says death certificate

Parents of six of the children confirmed that they babies participated in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish practice known as "metzitzah b'peh," during which the mohel - or person who performs the circumcision - places his mouth directly on the newly circumcised penis and sucks blood away from the wound. In the other cases, there was other evidence that suggested there was direct mouth-to-genital contact.

Metzitzah b'peh are not commonly performed in traditional Jewish circumcision rituals, HealthPop previously reported. In the past this was thought to limit complications and prevent infection, but today in order to prevent infection, many mohels use a sterilized glass tube or straw to clean the wound, including some orthodox rabbis.

Herpes simplex virus is an infection that causes sores in the affected area, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is spread through direct contact. The sores turn into blisters, which become painful. Although they eventually heal, the disease cannot be cured, and people suffer from outbreaks usually several times a year. Besides the more commonly known oral and genital herpes, herpes can also affect the eyes, skin or other parts of the body. The virus is especially dangerous for newborns and people with weak immune systems.

The CDC determined that 20,493 babies boys born in New York City could have potentially had direct oral suction during the almost six-year period they monitored statistics. The risk of contracting a form of herpes following Jewish ritual circumcision with confirmed or likely direct orogenital suction was determined to be 24.4 per 100,000 cases, which was 3.4 times higher than the risk for babies who did not have direct orogential suction.

Because 20 percent of these babies won't have the lesions associated with herpes, the CDC urged that doctors look for other signs like fevers when evaluating what is wrong with a baby that has just undergone the ritual. The agency added that circumcisions should be performed under sterile conditions, and direct oral contact should be avoided as much as possible.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has more on this risk.

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