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Two NYC Babies Have Contracted Herpes from Controversial Circumcision Ceremony

Update Date: Apr 08, 2013 09:36 AM EDT

Two infants in New York City have contracted herpes from a controversial circumcision practice, and one baby has reportedly been diagnosed with a strain of HIV. It is unclear what the long-term health effects may be.

According to CNN, the practice is called metzizah b'peh and is performed in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. During the procedure, the mohel, who performs the circumcision practice, removes the foreskin and then sucks the blood from the site of the wound. It is through the removal of the blood that the herpes was transmitted.

The problem is that as much as 70 percent of the general population has herpes simplex 1, ABC News reports. The virus, which is distinct than herpes simplex 2 or the sexually transmitted genital herpes, may be present in a person's saliva, even if he or she has no symptoms.

In adults, the virus is generally harmless. However, it can be devastating to babies, whose immune systems are not always capable at managing the virus. Two infants who have been diagnosed with herpes simplex 1, which they obtained from this procedure, have suffered from brain damage; two have died, including one infant last year.

In New York City, 13 infants have reportedly been diagnosed with herpes simplex 1 from the procedure since 2000. Recently, the government has attempted to fight the possible health effects from the circumcision practice. According to the Huffington Post, the public health department passed a regulation requiring cases of herpes in infants younger than 60 days to be reported to the city. Last year, the board of health passed a resolution requiring parents who may wish for their sons to undergo the procedure to sign a consent form.

The consent form resolution was met with some pushback in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom saw it as an infringement on First Amendment rights. Regardless, the regulation was upheld, as a judge ruled that the consent form simply meant that parents would be properly informed of the risks of the procedure.

In the case of one of the infants, the parents did not sign a consent form, though it is unclear why not. However, the city will not press charges against the mohel, since the parents have refused to give his name to authorities.

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