Mohel At Center Of Bris Controversy Tested Positive For Herpes, Documents Show


Yitzchok Fischer, the mohel who has been tied to four neonatal herpes infections (including one death and one case of brain damage) and ordered to stop the practice of metzitzah b’peh in New York state in 2007, apparently tested positive for the herpes virus, The Jewish Week has learned.

This information comes amid renewed claims by Fischer’s supporters and proponents of the direct oral suction circumcision practice that it was never proved that Fischer was the source of these infections; they make such claims because health officials were never able to match the DNA of the virus that infected the babies to that of the virus carried by the mohel — something infectious disease experts and epidemiologists say is unnecessary to infer causation.

However, these same supporters also note that Fischer refused to submit to a DNA test. While this implies Fischer had the virus, there has never
been public confirmation of this.

However, a copy of the 2007 New York State Health Department order obtained by The Jewish Week, through a Freedom of Information Law request, noted that he tested positive for an infection he was capable of communicating to others. The redacted document — required by law to protect Fischer’s privacy — does not make specific reference to herpes, however both the context of the order and the facts surrounding Fischer’s case strongly suggest that the infection for which, according to the order, he tested positive is herpes.

The order also describes the investigation carried out by the city Health Department in the wake of three infections linked to Fischer in 2003 and 2004. (The blood test was presumably taken as a part of that investigation).

According to the order, “among other activities,” the city’s investigation included “a review of: infant and maternal pre-natal, natal and post-natal medical records and pre-and post-circumcision infant medical records; interviews with the infants’ caretakers; interviews with observers of the circumcision procedures performed on these three infants; review of infection control practices and interviews of staff who had contact with these infants in the respective hospital newborn nurseries; and laboratory tests of specimens provided by persons in contact with the infants.”

Based on the information gathered from its investigation, and the fact that Fischer performed metzitzah b’peh on these three infants, appears to have been Infected with the herpes virus and that these infections presented within a time frame consistent with an infection acquired at circumcision, the city’s health department determined that there “are no other likely sources of infection” aside from Fischer.

A 2007 case was also linked to Fischer, according to the order.

A recent paper by Dr. Daniel S. Berman, published in the haredi religious periodical Dialogue, implied that one of the three babies to linked to Fischer may have contacted the infection from his twin brother through a health care worker, a claim the order appears to disprove. Berman also writes that all three infants had rashes prior to circumcision that had been treated by their pediatricians; thus, he argues, this put them at “high risk” for herpes infection to be transmitted “though a family member or anyone else handling the baby.”

However, given the information in the order, Berman’s theory appears to be incorrect.

Several weeks ago, The Jewish Week obtained a tape recording indicating that Fischer may have continued to perform metzitzah b’peh after the order was issued. When asked several weeks ago whether the state department of heath was undertaking an investigation into Fischer in connection with a possible violation of the 2007 order, Mike Moran, a spokesman for the department, declined to comment.