Patients of a dentist’s office in Oklahoma have been warned that they may have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis B and C, thanks to the faulty sterilization practices of Dr. W. Scott Harrington. Officials from the Tulsa Health Department warned 7,000 patients that they may have contracted the viruses.
One of Harrington’s patients tested positive for both HIV and hepatitis C after a having a dental procedure done , prompting the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry to conduct a surprise inspection of the practice, earlier in the month.
Two employees are alleged to have used unsanitary equipment, which is believed to have passed the virus to the patient. “I want to stress that this is not an outbreak,” said state epidemiologist, Kristy Bradley. “The investigation is still very much in the early stages.”
In addition to his employees, Harrington reportedly re-used needles on patients opening them up to bacteria, and leftover traces of drugs.
Because he was a Medicaid provider, Harrington had a large number of patients with HIV and hepatitis. The instruments used on infected patients were given an extra bleach cleaning but were rusted, thus leaving them “porous” and unable to be “properly sterilized.” An expired drug vial dating back to 1993 was also found in the office, and according to a drug log, morphine was used on patients last year, but hadn’t been ordered since 2009.
Authorities have no idea how long patients have been contaminated. “It uncertain how long those practices have been in place,” revealed Tulsa Health Department spokesperson, Kaitlin Snider. “He’s been practicing for 36 years.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of HIV and hepatitis transmission from dentist visits are extremely rare. Last summer the CDC notified 8,000 patients in Colorado that their dentist exposed them to blood-viruses by re-using needles, but no cases of viral transmission were found.
Harrington has not yet released a statement on the allegation but willingly gave up his license and shut down the practice until further notice. He has hearing is scheduled for April 19, the result of which may permanently revoke his license.