It is rare for most people to think about infants when it comes to sexually transmitted infections. Yet reports concerning HIV and herpes in infants have been cropping up rather regularly in the media lately.
It was recently reported that two infants in New York City were infected with herpes as a result of being circumcised in a rather controversial way. Specifically, in the procedure called metzitzah b'peh, the practitioner was required to orally suck the baby’s penis in order to cleanse the wound. Although this is in stark contrast to the way prevailing circumcision procedures are carried out (where sterile tools are used to clean the wound), there is still a minority of families that prefer this practice.
When an infant is infected with a virus, the effects of it are different from what they would be for an adult, as an infant does not have a fully developed immune system. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been past cases where infants’ herpes infection has led to brain damage and even death. In milder effects, the infants have had a fever (which is not unusual in adults). Given this, it is not surprising that the health department has informed medical staff to be vigilant to cases of male infant sepsis and to ask whether this could be due to circumcision. In addition to that, regulations have been passed that require that parents of a child sign a consent form that allows the oral sucking to occur during the procedure.
Although the two infants that were infected have survived, it is not clear whether there will be any long-term effects to their health. In general, the prognosis of neonatal herpes infection is unclear as contracting this illness is rather unusual and the known cases have not reached adulthood yet. As such, it also raises questions of how to treat these cases.
Naturally these cases should not be taken lightly. However, it is also important to remember that parents should be allowed the choice of how to circumcise their children. Perhaps, rather than having parents sign consent for the procedure, it would be more prudent to ensure that the practitioners carrying out the procedure are not posing a risk to the child.