Old-fashioned circumcision can spread herpes

Boys whose ritual circumcisions involve an ancient, and now rare, practice may acquire herpes during the operation.

Some cultures in which the penis foreskin is routinely removed by surgery have long recognized that the practice partially protects boys and men against certain infections. Recently, circumcision has been found to reduce a man’s risk of acquiring HIV (SN: 4/3/04, p. 212: Available to subscribers at Better-Off Circumcised? Foreskin may permit HIV entry, infection). However, doctors debate whether such benefits outweigh the risks associated with the surgery.

Jewish doctrine stipulates that boys undergo circumcision on the 8th day of life. Now, a team of Israeli and Canadian pediatricians has compiled eight recent cases of Jewish infants who acquired one of the viruses that causes herpes simplex from the men who performed their circumcisions.

In each case, the circumciser, or mohel, used his mouth to suck blood away from the infant’s surgical wound, as Jewish doctrine has encouraged since the fifth century. In the 19th century, most mohels began using sanitary medical devices for that purpose. Oral suction persists among a fraction of mohels, but it should be discouraged altogether, urge Benjamin Gesundheit of Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Israel, and his colleagues in the electronic version of the August Pediatrics.

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