When we reported earlier this year on the Shigella outbreaks being experienced by the Jewish communities of the Lower Hudson and Brooklyn in New York State, we did wonder if it might have something to do with religious or cultural practices.
Our last report, Shigella Outbreak In New York Spreads Across Hudson River can be found here.
And when we saw reports this week that Rockland County, New York has had 130 Shigella cases already this year, compared to about a dozen in all of last year; we went looking for more of an insider explanation.
We found this by columnist Elliot Jager in The Jerusalem Post:
TAKE SHIGELLA, a bacteriological infection of the intestines, which recently spiked among the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect in Brooklyn. The disease is spread when infected fecal matter contaminates food or water, which is why the local health department suspected poor hygiene as the cause.
It’s not that Satmar children don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet, the problem is they don’t necessarily use soap and hot water. Instead, they ritually wash by pouring cold water several times over each hand before reciting the Asher Yatzar prayer, which thanks God for the continuous daily miracle of the body’s proper functioning.
No one is suggesting that ritual washing, per se, is the problem, only that the process probably needs to be supplemented by soap and hot water. Fortunately, the public health authorities in New York City are clued into the possibility that group values can provide insights into the spread of disease. Having solved the mystery, they’ve now distributed pamphlets in Yiddish on personal hygiene.
Habits are always hard to break. Jager’s "Power & Politics: From minyan anxiety to female modesty" can be found here.
For the latest from Rockland County, go here.