Two Jewish babies were admitted to Monmouth Medical Center with genital Herpes Simplex Virus 1 transmitted by metzitzah b’peh, the Forward reported today.
Dr. Margaret Fisher, chair of pediatrics at the hospital and a pediatric infectious disease specialist said one boy was admitted within the past month within days of his circumcision. The other case is older, she said, within the past year or two. The two infants had genital lesions. Dr. Fischer described the cases as “extremely mild.” The Forward notes that both infants were successfully treated for 10 days with intravenous anti-viral medication.
Monmouth Medical Center is near Lakewood, N.J., which has a large haredi community and the largest haredi yeshiva in America.
The story also notes that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo convened a meeting March 12, bringing together state health department officials and haredi leaders. Cuomo’s liaison to the Jewish community, Emily Saltzman, referred the Forward’s questions about the meeting to his press office, which did not respond to multiple messages.
Similar meetings in 2005 and early 2006 resulted in a circumcision protocol issued by the state which suggested mohels rinse their mouths with mouthwash immediately before doing MBP to stop transmission of the virus. The protocol was widely ridiculed by public health and medical professionals and was revoked in 2007 after Governor Pataki left office, The Jewish Week reported last week.
The Forward reports that:
Following public disclosure of the most recent HSV-1 infant, the New York City Health Department’s spokesman, John Kelly, would say only that “the city and health department are working with members of the community to address this issue.” Asked for details about how they are doing so, Kelly stated in an email, “We don’t yet have further details to share.”
That “public disclosure” was actually an exclusive report by the New York Daily News.
The Forward also notes that:
The procedure’s defenders point to the extremely low number of affected children, considering the the high birth rate for Orthodox families and the number of ritual circumcisions that include metzitzah b’peh. Between 10 and 15 children have been admitted to hospitals in the United States, Israel and Canada with the disease in well over a decade.
This is false. The Forward has confused the number of cases we know about with the number of cases that actually occured. For example, it appears to have been unaware of the two Rockland County cases reported by ABC last night. And the Forward also seems to be unaware that there is no mandatory reporting of HSV-1 in New Jersey. Therefore it is impossible to claim that there have been a finite number of cases, “between 10 and 15” admitted to hospitals in the United States, Israel and Canada in “well over a decade.”
We also have medical opinions that HSV-1 causes various degrees of brain damage and that the vast majority of those cases are not noticeable until long after the circumcision, and we have the very real problem of non-reporting and of covering up of reporting, both of which clearly happen. If anyone thinks Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital or Laniado Hospital are accurately reporting the number and severity of MBP HSV1 cases they get, I’ve got some very fertile land in the Mojave Desert I’d like to sell you. The same is true for Bnei Brak’s doctors and hospitals.
The Forward also wrote that the baby’s death was not “attributed to their ritual circumcisers’ use” of MBP, as if that attribution was made in a vacuum. But it wasn’t. The death was “attributed” to MBP by the medical examiner who did an autopsy on the baby and who had complete access to the baby’s medical records. Further, that cause of death is backed by the state’s Department of Health and the city’s Department of Health.
We also know that case was first reported by New York Daily News, which broke the story – and which should have been credited for doing so by the Forward but, oddly, was not. That’s the only reason we know about it. But there could be dozens of other cases of sickened babies, including cases where a MBP-transmitted HSV1 infection or even killed a baby. But we don’t know because the information is kept secret.
How many babies were buried without autopsies after intervention from haredi fixers even though those babies died shortly after MBP? How many MBP-sickened infants were treated without their cases being reported? How many haredi fixers prevented autopsies or convinced a family to treat their sick child outside the normal medical framework?
Babies die from MBP-transmitted HSV-1 infections. Babies are sickened by MBP-transmitted HSV-1 infections. Some of those babies are brain damaged by MBP-transmitted HSV1 infections. We don’t know how many because of medical secrecy laws like HIPAA and because of coverups by mohels, fixers and rabbis – and by doctors and politicians beholden to haredim.
Those are the facts.
And if we want to prevent more needless suffering and death, we must accurately represent them.
You can read the Forward’s report here.