Monday, August 25, 2014

MBP - Does a rinse with Schnapps help?

I must admit that I was somewhat caught by surprise by the overwhelming responses to my previous post about MBP.  In addition to the comments that are published, I received many emails as well, and tried my best to respond to all of them. Sitting up late at night in the hospital can sometimes be a useful time for emails!  I used to use that time for Nach Yomi, and catching up on medical articles, but now it seems to be email and blog time! BTW, Nach Yomi is an OU program that has changed my life, and I highly recommend it to the many Nach deficient people out there.  If even one of you takes up Nach Yomi as a result of my encouragement, then this blog may turn out to be something useful after all! But let's get back to MBP.

If at all possible, I beg you to comment publicly on the blog rather than send me an email.  I want everyone to benefit from your thoughts, whether you agree with me, or not.  If you want to remain anonymous, I have no problem with that at all.  The discussions generated by the comments can be very interesting and beneficial for everyone, and it allows me to respond publicly.  I will still read and respond to emails, but please let everyone benefit from your ideas, not just me.

One of the issues that has come up over and over again is the question of whether or not rinsing the mouth with wine or whiskey helps mitigate the risk of transmission of the HSV virus.  One person even wrote to me in an email, that apparently in Yemen, the custom was to perform the MBP with a mouthful of Arak, and even to rinse several times.  His source was Rav Kapach's Sefer Halichot Teiman.  Since there has been so much interest in this topic, I am dedicating this post to the question of alcohol rinses and HSV transmission.

There are many reasons why the alcohol rinse does not mitigate the concern for HSV transmission.  For starters, alcohol as a disinfectant loses most of its potency when it is less than 60-90% concentration.  Even the strongest whiskey's are rarely more than 40-45% alcohol.  See the CDC here for details on the concentration of alcohol necessary for it to have any useful potency for germicidal use. Furthermore, bear in mind, that the alcohol is further diluted as soon as it is placed in the mouth by natural saliva.  So the alcohol used is simply not strong enough to kill bacteria or viruses.

In addition, even if one were to use pure ethyl alcohol to rinse the mouth, it would still be impossible to kill all the viruses and bacteria present in the mouth.  The mouth is full of areas to which the alcohol will never reach, such as the gums, between the teeth, all the folds between the cheeks and lips and the teeth and so on. It is well known that it is impossible to actually disinfect the mouth.  So even if you could reduce the amount of virus present in the mouth, there is no way anyone can eliminate the possibility of transmission.  To make matters worse, the skin on the outside of the lips can transmit virus as well, and this area is never rinsed.

We also need to bear in mind, that the germicidal activity of alcohol, even when it is potent enough to kill bacteria, is measured when it is used on smooth surfaces, together with scrubbing the surface.  In order to effectively replicate this, one would have to scrub every surface within and around the mouth (which is absolutely impossible like I described before) with alcohol with at least a 70% concentration!

The bottom line is that the alcohol  in wine and schnapps is simply too weak to be effective, and even if it were an adequately strong germicide, the mouth cannot be disinfected.

I think it is worthwhile to bring another example that will hopefully drive home the point that the only way to eliminate the risk of HSV transmission is to eliminate the direct contact between the one who has the virus and the baby.

We all know that surgeons sterilize their hands and arms, or "scrub", before performing surgery and coming into contact with open wounds.  However, would anyone ever even think of allowing surgeons to operate bare-handed just because they washed their hands really well and scrubbed them with germicidal solutions?  Of course not! We mandate gloves and gowns and etc. because it is common sense to eliminate contact between the surface of the surgeon's hands and the open wounds.  That is the only way to guarantee that germs do not get passed back and forth.

In the same way it makes no sense to allow contact between someone's open mouth and the open circumcision wound, no matter how much schnapps one may rinse his mouth with.


  1. Thanks for the Nach Yomi recommendation; I'm adding it to my podcast subscriptions.

  2. Like I said, even if only one person started Nach Yomi because of me, that the entire blog would have been worth it. Please let me know how you enjoy it.