Scores of Tulsa Dental Patients Diagnosed with Hepatitis, AIDS

Patients of Tulsa, Oklahoma-based dentist, W. Scott Harrington, have been tested for serious blood borne diseases believed linked to his use of filthy instruments and dirty needles.

Of the more than 7,000 patients notified in late March of the infection risk, 3,122 were tested, At least 60 people tested positive for hepatitis and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, said ABC News. Specifically, three people tested positive for hepatitis B, one tested positive for AIDS, and 57 tested positive for hepatitis C. Investigators say that the infection source is not yet clear.

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 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.

In one case, a 38-year-old female patient underwent wisdom teeth removal by Harrington in 2009, according to a lawsuit she filed. She suffered from pain and a fever that required more than one round of antibiotics after developing a rash, fever, and symptoms of liver problems, said ABC News. She was not diagnosed with hepatitis or HIV, but was seriously sickened according to her attorney who blames Harrington’s improper sterilization practices.

We previously wrote that 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.” 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 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, 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.

The probe also revealed old needles and rusty instruments being used and that bleach would be poured on patient wounds until those wounds “turned white,” said the complaint filed by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, according to ABC News. “The basic things that everyone knows—follow CDC guidelines, use clean syringes, don’t reuse multi-dose vials in multiple patients, don’t use rusted equipment—those are things even non-physicians know,” Rogers told ABC News at the time. “Those are basic things. That part makes it egregious.” The investigation also revealed that instruments used to treat patients known to have infectious disease were given an extra dip in bleach in addition to normal cleaning methods; however, the tools were tainted with red-brown rust spots, an indicator that the instruments were “porous and cannot be properly sterilized,” according to ABC News.

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 10 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.

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