Brooklyn DA investigates baby death from herpes following circumcision

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The Brooklyn district attorney is investigating the death of a 2-week-old baby boy following a complication with his circumcision.

The district attorney’s office confirmed yesterday that they are looking into the Sept. 28 death of the infant, who died at Maimonides Hospital after he reportedly contracted the herpes virus during an ultra-Orthodox Jewish bris.

According to the medical examiner, the baby died of Type 1 herpes virus, which is oral herpes that causes sores around the mouth and lips.

A bris is a Jewish ceremony where a baby boy is circumcised. In an Orthodox tradition that city officials said is uncommon, a rabbi or “mohel” draws blood from the circumcised penis with his mouth. The custom is known as “metzitzah b’peh,” or “suction by mouth.”

The city health department cites herpes as a risk and advises against the ceremony.

The family of the baby who passed away, however, is not cooperating with authorities, according to the Daily News.

This is not the first time a baby has contracted herpes during a circumcision.

In 2004, a baby died after a circumcision, and three cases were connected to one rabbi. The Department of Health commissioner at the time, Thomas Frieden, issued a letter to parents in 2005 warning them of the cases and the risk. 

“There is no reasonable doubt that the practice of metzitzah b’peh has infected several infants in New York City with the herpes virus,” Frieden wrote.

At the time, Frieden said, doctors and others in the Jewish community suggested the department ban the practice, but they instead decided to educate parents with a website focused on the risks.

The virus, while not fatal to adults, can cause babies to become seriously ill, suffer brain damage or die, according to officials with the Department of Health.  
 
Health concerns

The health department advises against metzitzah b’peh and recommends that parents check with their mohel to find out whether they practice it.

The health department documented several cases of herpes infections, one of a baby that died, and another that suffered brain damage.

“Oral herpes spreads easily through saliva, especially when saliva touches a cut or break in the skin, such as during metzitzah b’peh,” the health department says on its website. “Most people with oral herpes don’t know they are infected and don’t have symptoms.”        

Bloomberg expresses concerns

“Religious liberty simply does not extend to injuring others or putting children at risk,” Bloomberg told reporters at an unrelated press conference Tuesday. “So we’ll continue working to prevent more baby boys from suffering these tragic fates.” 

Previous problems

As far back as 1998, the city investigated two cases of herpes, both associated with a mohel who performed the practice.

In 2004, a baby died after a circumcision that was performed by a Rockland County rabbi, and three more cases were connected to another rabbi.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro


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