Well, this will certainly add fuel to the "intactivist" movement! According to the CDC, between 2000 and 2011 a total of 11 baby Jewish boys in New York City were infected with herpes after having their bits snipped in an out-of-hospital Orthodox circumcision performed by a mohel. Ten of the 11 boys were hospitalized afterwards and two of them died. Which helps explain why our Health Department yesterday released a statement [PDF] once again strongly advising those participating in "Jewish Ritual Circumcision" to never perform it with "direct oral suctioning of the circumcision wound."

So we're clear, at issue isn't the cutting of the foreskin (though there are people who take issue with the entire idea), but the Orthodox practice of "metzitzah b'peh," during which the mohel places his mouth directly on the newly circumcised penis and sucks blood away from the wound. While often harmless, if the mohel has an easily transmittable disease like herpes, serious problems can occur.

According to the CDC 20,493 baby NYC boys in the past six years could have potentially had direct orogential suction, putting them at risk. According to them the chance of contracting a form of herpes following the Jewish ritual with "confirmed or likely" direct orogenital suction is 24.4 per 100,000 cases—or 3.4 times higher than the risk for babies who did not have direct orogential suction.

And, because roughly 20 percent of babies who may have been infected won't show lesions normally associated with herpes, the CDC is urging doctors to look for other signs when looking at sick babies who recently were snipped. Meanwhile, New York City, which has a whole webpage devoted to the topic, says it is working "with health care providers, the community, and parents to prevent HSV-1 infection among newborn males undergoing ritual Jewish circumcision" and points out that there are other ways to suck blood away that doesn't involve direct contact:

Some religious authorities approve of suctioning blood from the site with a sterile glass tube. Others approve of the use of a sponge or a sterile gauze pad to wipe the blood away. There is no evidence that these methods, all of which avoid direct contact between the mohel’s mouth and the baby’s cut, cause HSV-1 infection in newborns.

What will be interesting now is how this rallies calls to ban circumcision altogether, calls which have been popping up for awhile now. Whatever happens, we strongly suspect the age old practice won't be going anywhere anytime soon—it has lots of pros and cons, after all. And not just aesthetic ones!