Soap and alcohol will prevent herpes

Forgive my indulgence once more. I’d intended to bypass circumcision stories for a bit, since I’ve hammered away at the subject recently. My intention was sincere, but reality sometimes intercedes with something so absurd that commentary must follow:

… [New York State Health] Commissioner Antonia Novello, in pink suit and gold jewelry, and a sea of men with long beards, black suits and hats signed a new protocol Monday that attempts to respect both an ultra-Orthodox Jewish ritual and public health concerns.

“To be able to represent the religious freedom and the public health — it might not be the most perfect protocol in the world, but before this, we had nothing,” Novello said.

I don’t believe the public health commissioner’s job is to represent religious freedom. Of course, I should say “freedom”, since any solution that allows circumcision infringes the boy’s religious freedom. Also, there isn’t really a protocol better than nothing, as you’ll soon see.

The protocols are aimed at preventing the spread of herpes through the practice of metzizah b’peh, in which the circumcision wound is ritually cleaned by sucking out the blood and spitting it out.

The policies stem from seven cases of neonatal herpes connected to the ritual. They included one child who suffered severe brain injury from the virus and another who died.

What’s Commissioner Novello’s job description? How many cases of neonatal herpes connected to the ritual are necessary to step past the fear of challenging a practice that has no place in a modern society? It’s not seven, as we now know. So, how many?

The new state guidelines require mohels, or anyone performing metzizah b’peh, to sanitize their hands like a surgeon, removing all jewelry, cleaning their nails under running water and washing their hands for up to six minutes with antimicrobial soap or an alcohol-based hand scrub.

The person performing metzizah b’peh also must clean his mouth with a sterile alcohol wipe and, no more than five minutes before it, rinse for at least 30 seconds with a mouthwash that contains 25 percent alcohol.

The circumcised area must be covered with antibiotic ointment and sterile gauze after the procedure.

When Listerine is a necessary supply for the person performing surgery, it’s clear that something is fundamentally wrong with anyone who endorses (or in the case of Commissioner Novello, allows) this circumcision ritual’s continuance. It’s not reasonable for someone to slice a child’s boy’s genitals and suck the blood from the wound. Modern medicine matters. The right of the infant male to keep an adult’s mouth away from his genitals matters. The parents get their ceremony, and no one in government risks stating the obvious offending a religious group, but that does not mean everything is rainbows and ice cream. The circumcised boy may trade his foreskin for an infectious disease.

In addition to the rabbinical policies, the state Health Department also added neonatal herpes to the list of diseases health care workers are required to report to state officials.

In adults, herpes is common — almost 80 percent carry the oral form of the disease, according to the state Health Department. It is far less common, and potentially more dangerous, in children and babies.

If a baby who underwent metzizah b’peh does contract herpes, the mohel, the infant’s parents and health care workers will be tested. If the mohel has the same viral strain as the baby, the mohel will be barred from conducting any future circumcisions.

Allow me to recap… The new neonatal herpes infection will be reported. I’m sure the infected boy(s) will be happy being a statistic. No word on what that statistic accomplishes. It doesn’t matter, though, because almost 80% of adults have oral herpes, so the boy will probably get it anyway. No harm done. But at least the mohel will be barred from infecting any infants in the future. Preventing it before the first infection of an innocent child boy doesn’t count as a public health concern, apparently. What kind of compromise keeps the obscene act, yet does nothing to require the circumciser to prove he does not carry the disease?

Antonia Novello should be fired immediately.