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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Circumcision Practice Leads to Two More Herpes Infections in Baby Boys

Update Date: Apr 07, 2013 03:23 PM EDT

Two Brooklyn infants have contracted herpes through a controversial religious circumcision ritual in the past three months, which has been linked to the spread of the potentially deadly virus to newborn boys, according to the New York City Health Department.

The unidentified baby boys became sick after the centuries-old, ultra-Orthodox ritual associated with the bris known as metzizah b'peh, according to the Daily Mail. The act requires a practitioner to orally suck the baby's penis to 'cleanse' the open wound following its circumcision, making them susceptible to the virus.

The latest cases bring the count to 13 infants since 2000, two of which suffered brain damage and two died from the virus which can rapidly spread throughout its body.

Under the practice, the rabbi or mohel removes blood from the wound on the baby's penis with his mouth - a practice city Health Department officials have slammed, saying it carries "inherent risks" for babies.

'A herpes infection in a newborn baby has the risk of leading to severe illness and death,' Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told ABC News.

'The reason is that the baby doesn't have the same fully developed immune system as an adult. Instead of staying in the genital area, it extends throughout different organs in the body,' he explained.

The Department of Health passed a regulation in September requiring all those who perform the ritual to get parental consent on a form stating that the procedure can lead to health risks. Several Jewish groups and three rabbis filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Manhattan arguing that "the government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express - especially when the speaker is operating in an area of heightened First Amendment protection, such as a religious ritual."

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