Dental Patients Undergoing Testing for Blood Borne Disease, HIV, Hepatitis


Hundreds of dental patients in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are undergoing testing for hepatitis and the virus that leads to AIDs over conditions at W. Scott Harrington’s dental practice.

Harrington’s patients are being screened for hepatitis B and C and HIV at the Tulsa Health Department, said CNN. This weekend, over 400 of the 7,000 patients contacted by health authorities underwent testing for the dangerous blood borne illnesses. The thousands had been treated at Harrington’s office over the past six years.

Investigators discovered conditions that CNN described as “unsanitary” and “unprofessional,” and which one official said was a “perfect storm” for infections. Susan Rogers, executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry told CNN, “I will tell you that when … we left, we were just physically kind of sick… That’s how bad it was, and I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff over the years.”

Former Harrington patients who were tested Saturday should receive results back within about two weeks, said CNN. Testing resumed today. Harrington, 64, surrendered his dental license in late March after health investigators discovered a host of issues with sterilization and staffing processes.

When one of Harrington’s patients was diagnosed with hepatitis C, the dentistry board initiated a probe. That same patient had originally tested positive for HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, but a follow-up test came back negative, said the Tulsa Health Department, according to CNN.

The probe revealed a number of serious sterilization and “cross-contamination” concerns that included “unauthorized, unlicensed” employees using IVs to sedate patients and improperly handled needles. And, although seemingly clean from the outside, said Rogers, “just basic universal precautions for blood-borne pathogens” were not being followed, wrote CNN. The drug cabinet was, among other things, “unlocked and unattended” and contained a drug that expired one decade ago, the official complaint indicated. The complaint was filed before the state dental board, said CNN.

Other records revealed that morphine had been used in patients as recently as throughout last year; however, Harrington’s last morphine delivery was years prior, in 2009, said CNN. To compound issues, Harrington admitted to investigators that he had a higher-than-typical demographic of HIV and hepatitis patients, Rogers told CNN.

A teenage patient, speaking to CNN on the condition of anonymity described a devastating experience at Harrington’s office last year. The young man said he awoke during surgery to remove three molars and saw profuse bleeding. He was told to “shut up” and hold gauze in place in his mouth. When he awoke a second time, he found himself tied up on the floor and was told that he became “combative” during the procedure. “I felt when I got out of there and went through all I went through, I felt they didn’t know much of what they were doing at all,” he told CNN.

We’ve previously written that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in 2009 that, based on its decade-long review, over 60,000 patients have been placed at risk for potentially deadly, blood-borne infectious diseases. According to the CDC, over the ten years prior to 2009, tens of thousands of American patients have been asked to undergo hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing because proper infection control practices were not followed. The CDC review of outbreak data indicated that, in that prior 10 years, there were 33 identified outbreaks that occurred outside of hospitals in 15 states, with 12 occurring in outpatient clinics, six taking place in hemodialysis centers, and 15 happening in long-term care facilities, for a total of 450 people acquiring HBV or HCV infections.

Hepatitis C is a viral liver disease that can cause inflammation of the liver and can lead to chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, or cancer of the liver. The virus is spread by contact with infected body fluids; no vaccine exists for hepatitis C, which can be fatal. Hepatitis C can take up to six months to be detected.

HIV, explained CNN, destroys the body’s immune system over time, which makes it difficult for people with HIV to fight infections. When not treated, nearly all of those infected with HIV will develop AIDS, said the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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