The city’s health department reported a new case of neonatal herpes linked to the risky circumcision technique of metzitzah b’peh, the first of 2017.
The department sent an alert to doctors Wednesday telling them to ask parents whether the child had undergone metzitzah b’peh if a newborn showed signs of the infection.
In metzitzeh b’peh, a mohel sucks on a newborn’s penis after a circumcision to draw blood away from and cleanse the wound. The practice puts babies at risk of contracting herpes from the mohel, which can be fatal. Since 2000, health officials have reported 24 cases of babies contracting herpes following metzitzeh b’peh, according to the health department.
Two of those infants died, two suffered brain damage and several others developed other long-term health problems.
The infant in the latest case was hospitalized for 14 days.
This is the first time the city has announced a case of metzitzah b’peh-related herpes since 2015, when the Board of Health repealed a Bloomberg-era requirement that parents sign a consent form alerting them to the dangers of the ritual before allowing their children to undergo it. (Two cases occurred in 2016 but the health department told Politico New York they didn’t send out alerts because at that time, there had been enough publicity given to the issue in 2015 that doctors were already aware of the disease.)
In place of the forms, which were rarely used, city officials required healthcare providers to distribute pamphlets about metzitzah b’peh’s risks. The new policy also stipulates that if an infant begins showing symptoms of herpes after metzitzah b’peh, rabbinical leaders will help the health department identify which mohel performed the bris and ask him to be tested for the virus. (Health officials would not say whether the mohels in the 2016 cases were tested, Politico reported.)
If the mohel tests positive, the city will use DNA testing to determine if it was the mohel who passed on the virus, or if the baby got it from someone else. If the mohel is found to be the culprit, the city’s Department of Health is supposed to ban him for life from performing metzitzeh b’peh; a policy charedi leaders said they would help enforce. A city regulation calls for fines ranging from $200 to $2,000 for mohels who defy the ban more than once.