Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NYC, Orthodox Jews in Talks over Ritual after Herpes Cases; 'Oral Suction' Circumcision Involves Mouth Contact with Incision Site

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NYC, Orthodox Jews in Talks over Ritual after Herpes Cases; 'Oral Suction' Circumcision Involves Mouth Contact with Incision Site

Article excerpt

NEW YORK * With a swift swipe of his scalpel, Rabbi A. Romi Cohn circumcises the baby boy, then leans down and sucks the blood from the wound as prayers in Hebrew fill the Brooklyn synagogue.

The Orthodox Jewish tradition known as oral suction circumcision reaches back to biblical times, but it has created a modern-day dilemma for New York City health officials, who have linked it to 17 cases of infant herpes since 2000. Two babies died, and two others suffered brain damage.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration is now negotiating with a group of rabbis over how to protect children's health while preserving religious freedom.

"The talks are ongoing, but I cannot go into particulars," said Avi Fink, the mayor's deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, who has been leading the talks. "Our goal is to achieve awareness of the risks."

Such oral suction circumcisions are relatively rare, even in New York City, which is home to more than a million Jews the largest Jewish population outside Israel. City health officials estimate more than 3,000 babies are circumcised each year using the oral suction method.

A 2012 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against the practice, saying it increases the risk of herpes infection in baby boys to 3.4 times that of other male newborns.

Oral suction circumcisions first came under scrutiny during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, and the city's health board voted in 2012 to regulate the practice by asking a parent or guardian to sign a consent form indicating potential risks.

Health officials point to a number of factors they say have linked the known cases to the ritual. They look for lesions on the genitalia, indicating that's where the virus started. In addition, lab tests have showed that the timing of the infection coincides with the circumcision. …

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