New York's deputy health commissioner, Dr. Jay Varma, said: "The [New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] has been concerned about this problem for some time. And so we are taking the approach right now to try and educate parents and the community about the dangers of this very specific procedure.
"The infections we're talking about are not the ones people normally associate with sexual type interaction," he added. "Many actually acquire herpes type 1 when they are children, because it can be gotten through very casual contact. This causes what people commonly call cold sores in the mouth.
"We're not implying in any way that these mohel [circumcisers] have done anything untoward in a sexual context," Varma said. "The point is that regardless if you're a mohel or someone else, having direct contact with the mouth and an open wound is a hazard."
To highlight the risks involved, Varma cited an incident in 2004 when twin boys were diagnosed with herpes following oral-genital suction during circumcision. About two weeks later, both babies developed fevers and lesions around their genitals, buttocks and abdomen. One of boys later died.
The boys' mother and hospital staffers were ruled out as a possible source of infection.
Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and pathology at New York University Medical Center, said the sucking practice is a "bad idea."
"There are about 500 different microorganisms in the human mouth," he said. "So, I think it's insanity. It's not only unhygienic, but it can potentially kill the child. So, for the protection of children this is a practice that should be discontinued."
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