At Least 60 Dental Patients Test Positive For HIV, Hepatitis C
April 20, 2013

At Least 60 Dental Patients Test Positive For HIV, Hepatitis C

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Last month, Oklahoma state health officials found unsanitary conditions at a Tulsa dental surgery practice that may have left thousands of patients exposed to HIV and Hepatitis C. Now, blood tests have confirmed at least 60 of those patients have tested positive for either of the diseases, according to a statement from the Tulsa Health Department (THD).

The THD is working closely with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to complete testing on as many as 7,000 patients that were in the care of W. Scott Harrington at his dental practice in Tulsa. Health officials said in a statement lab tests have been conducted on 3,122 patients. So far they have confirmed 57 cases of infection of hepatitis C, and three cases of HIV.

The officials said much more investigation is needed, including interviews with each patient and further blood tests of remaining patients before they can confirm the viruses were in fact contracted at the dental offices, which in the past has been viewed as an extremely rare occurrence.

According to reports, Harrington allegedly re-used needles from one patient to another, and without any proper sterilization. He also allegedly used a second set of dental tools, which were old and rusty, on patients known to carry infection and healthy patients alike.

After the initial story broke in late March, health officials mailed letters to patients that were seen at either of Harrington´s two offices — Tulsa and Owasso — outlining the risk of infection. The letters also explained to the patients how to go about getting free blood testing.

Leslea Bennet-Webb, a spokesperson for OSDH, told Reuters health officials cannot be more specific about the number of patients who have tested positive for HIV because of the state´s confidentiality policy restricting public disclosure of HIV cases involving fewer than three persons.

Dr. Kristy Bradley, an epidemiologist with the state of Oklahoma, noted the investigation is complex, stressing the source of infection is still under investigation. “We will certainly continue to keep the public informed as we learn more.”

Based on current data on disease prevalence in Oklahoma, health officials noted nearly 5,000 persons are living in the state with HIV/AIDS and nearly 68,000 may have hepatitis C. Based on that data, it is more likely the small number of positive cases detected stem from a source other than dental procedures from the Tulsa dental practice. However, the state is not ready to rule out an association until all testing is complete and more information is gathered.

Because it can take weeks to months for symptoms to appear, further monitoring will likely be needed for many patients who had been recent clients at Harrington´s practice. Those who have already tested negative should be tested again after six months of exposure to assure they remain negative.

Harrington, who has been in practice for more than 30 years, voluntarily surrendered his state dental license to authorities after the initial investigation. A license revocation hearing before the state dentistry board is scheduled for August 16, and Harrington could still face criminal charges. He is currently facing 17 counts of unsanitary practice.