Oklahoma health authorities first became alarmed after one of the dentist's patients was infected with hepatitis C earlier this year. (Photo : Reuters)
As if going to the dentist wasn't scary enough already; at least 60 patients of an Oklahoma oral surgeon have been infected with hepatitis C, B, or HIV, state health officials have confirmed.
Blood tests recently adminisitered to over 3,200 patients who visited dentist W. Scott Harrington's offices in Tulsa and Owasso, showed that 57 people tested positive for hepatitis C, three tested positive for hepatitis B, and at least one tested positive for HIV, according to a joint statement from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Tulsa Health Department (THD).
Oklahoma health authorities first became alarmed after one of Harrington's patients was infected with hepatitis C. When health officials examined Harrington's office earlier this year they discovered nightmarishly unsanitary conditions.
During their analyzation of Harrington's practice, health examiners found several instances of insufficient "sterilization," "cross-contamination", prescriptions expired as long ago as 1993, "unauthorized, unlicensed" employees setting up IVs and sedating patients, and an absence of "just basic universal precautions for blood-borne pathogens."
"I will tell you that when ... we left, we were just physically kind of sick," Susan Rogers, executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, told CNN. "That's how bad it was, and I've seen a lot of bad stuff over the years."
Due to the potentially hazardous state of Harrington's practice, Oklahoma health officials offered to provide free blood screening to more than 7,000 of the doctor's patients. The state cautions that not all patients who have already been tested for HIV have been identified yet, as this is just the first phase of test results.
"Persons who are tested prior to six months after exposure and are found to be negative should be tested again at six months after exposure to assure they are negative," a statement from the THD warned.
Oklahoma health officials emphasize that the source of the infections is not yet known, and that the number of Harrington's patients - "if any" - who were infected at his clinics remains unclear.
"This is a complex investigation," state epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said in the THD's statement. "The next phase will include more in-depth interviews of persons who test positive to determine the likelihood that their exposure is associated with their dental surgical procedure at the Harrington practice. We will certainly continue to keep the public informed as we learn more."
Harrington volunteered to give up his dental license last month after the health examinations of his clinics. The dentist will have his case heard at a revocation hearing with the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry Aug. 16.