NY baby didn't contract HIV from circumcision

Fox News revises report that infant contracted HIV after controversial circumcision practice; health concerns still stand.

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April 9, 2013 20:31
3 minute read.
Baby undergoes circumcision

Baby undergoes circumcision R 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Fox News mistakenly reported on Monday that a newly circumcised infant had contracted HIV in New York after undergoing metzitza b’peh, a controversial practice in some Orthodox Jewish communities.

Metzitza, also known as oral-genital suction, is a custom in which a mohel, or Jewish ritual circumciser, applies direct oral suction to the still open circumcision wound of a newborn infant. Though the rabbis of the Talmud originally enacted the practice as a measure to safeguard the infant’s health, it has come under increasing fire over the past century. Since the acceptance of the germ theory of disease, many rabbis have advocated either changing or completely abolishing the practice.

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Referring to two recent cases of children contracting herpes via the practice, the Fox report quoted the New York City Department of Health as saying that “two infant boys have contracted herpes – with one testing positive for HIV-1.”

However, in response to an inquiry from The Jerusalem Post, the health department denied that any child had contracted the HIV virus, and provided the Post with copies of the initial health alerts on both cases Fox News had cited – neither of which referred to HIV.

The Fox article had been republished from the Medical Daily website. The original article’s headline did not refer to HIV, but to a child “testing positive for HSV,” or Herpes Simplex Virus.

Fox did not immediately respond to an email for comment but did correct the article shortly after being emailed by the Post.

Critics of metzitza b’peh have charged that the practice carries an unacceptable risk of herpes infection.



According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants who undergo metzitza “had an estimated risk 3.4 times greater than the risk for HSV-1 or untyped HSV infection among male infants unlikely to have had direct orogenital suction.”

Last year, The New York Times cited New York Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden as saying that the transmission of herpes via metzitza was “somewhat inevitable to occur as long as this practice continues, if at a very low rate.”

While the city of New York requires parents to fill out an informed consent form prior to the performance of metzitza, Medical Daily cited city health department official Jay Varma as saying that neither child’s parents had signed the paper.

In a release, the department said the infant who had tested positive for HSV-1 was the “second such case reported in New York City in a three-month span and the 13th such case since 2000.”

It added that “similar to previous cases, the March case developed vesicular lesions on the scrotum in the weeks after ritual circumcision, and HSV- 1 was isolated from lesions.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the ultra- Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, referred the Post to the website protectmilah.org, which notes that “many prominent rabbinic authorities maintain that MBP [metzitza b’peh] is the proper, or even the only acceptable, way to complete the circumcision under Jewish law.”

According to the site, “any chance that a religious practice endangers children’s safety deserves careful and thorough study. But the [health] department has not undertaken that study.

Instead, it has rushed to regulation on the basis of literally a handful of alleged cases over a period of years – a small fraction of the total number of reported cases of neonatal herpes – none of which has been definitively traced to MBP, and which even when taken together do not establish any statistically significant association between MBP and herpes, much less a causal link.”

However, many Orthodox critics of the practice say that low rate of infection is enough to have the entire practice banned, at least from a Jewish legal perspective.

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler – son-in-law of late American Orthodoxy leader Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and a professor of medical ethics at Yeshiva University – told The New York Times in 2005 that “the rule that’s above all rules in the Torah is that you cannot expose or accept a risk to health unless there is true justification for it. Now we have several cases of herpes in the Metro area... all we are talking about is presumptive evidence, and on that alone it would be improper according to Jewish law to do oral suction.”

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