Health Highlights: Sept. 14, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

NYC Mandates Parental Consent for Ritual Circumcision

The deaths of two children who contracted the herpes virus via an ultra-orthodox form of ritual circumcision have prompted the New York City Board of Health to require parents to sign a consent form warning them of the danger.

According to ABC News, the board's vote Thursday centers on a controversial part of Jewish ritual in which the circumcision practitioner, or mohel, puts his mouth on the infant's penis to suck the blood and "cleanse" the wound.

However, 70 percent of the general population is thought to carry type 1 herpes virus, which can be passed during the ritual from the mohel's mouth to the child. Neonatal herpes infections almost always prove deadly for newborns, and two babies have died from herpes infections linked to the ritual since 2003, ABC News said.

"There is no safe way to perform oral suction on an open wound in a newborn," Dr. Jay Varma, the New York City deputy commissioner for disease control, told the New York Times.

But some rabbis have strongly condemned the city's move. "This is the government forcing a rabbi practicing a religious ritual to tell his congregants it could hurt their child," Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, told ABCNews.com. He and other rabbis claim the procedure is performed safely thousands of times a year and maintaining child safety is of paramount importance to the Jewish faith.

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Yosemite Informs Another 230,000 Visitors of Hantavirus Outbreak

Officials at Yosemite National Park have told another 230,000 people who visited the park last summer about a hantavirus outbreak that occurred there in June.

According to the Los Angeles Times, those who were sent the informational letter via email on Wednesday did not stay in the area of the park where the hantavirus outbreak was reported, but park officials wanted to quell the fears of any concerned guests.

Thousands of letters have already been sent to visitors who did stay in the affected area, in tent cabins in Curry Village in the High Sierra Loop. Eight cases of hantavirus, three of those fatal, have been traced to the tent cabins.

According to the newspaper, the new letter tells recipients that "your recent overnight visit to Yosemite did not include a stay in lodging where the known hantavirus infections might have occurred; however, we wanted to take this opportunity to increase public awareness about hantavirus."

"Public health officials have no evidence at this time to indicate that persons who stayed elsewhere in the park this summer were at increased risk of exposure to hantavirus," the letter added. "Nevertheless, we want to ensure that all our guests have accurate and current information on hantavirus."

Hantavirus can take up to six weeks to surface with symptoms, and it is spread through urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents, officials have said.

Enclosed areas that have been infested with mice are prime spots for transmission of the respiratory disease. Park officials said Wednesday that an exceptionally large deer mouse population may have contributed to the hantavirus outbreak, the newspaper reported.

Since news of the outbreak broke, park rangers have received thousands of calls through an emergency hotline, the LA Times reported. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has notified 39 countries whose citizens might be at risk and the World Health Organization has issued a global alert about the outbreak.

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Texas Woman To Be 1st U.S. Recipient of Double-Arm Transplant

A Texas woman who had all her limbs amputated two years ago after contracting a severe infection is set to become the first U.S. patient to receive a double arm transplant, CBS News reported.

Katy Hayes, 43, a mother of three from Kingwood, contracted Streptococcal A infection days after giving birth to her third child in 2010 and fell into a coma. Doctors had to amputate her arms and legs to save her life.

Now, doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston plan to operate on Hayes in the double-arm transplant, attaching donated arms to the spot where her elbows used to be. The bones of the arms will be attached using metal plates and screws, and then the muscles, tendons, arteries, veins and major nerves will be connected. The hospital is seeking a suitable donor via the New England Organ Bank, CBS News said.

At a news conference Wednesday, lead surgeon Dr. Simon Talbot said Hayes would require six months of rehabilitation and it's possible that she might never get motion or feeling in her new hands. Speaking at the news conference, Hayes said she is hopeful.

"I want to hug my children and hug my husband, cook food, and wipe my own bottom; things you guys take for granted," she said. "I have the determination to make these arms my own."

Posted: September 2012


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