Dozens of Oklahoma dental patients have been diagnosed with hepatitis C and at least one case of HIV, state health officials said Thursday, four weeks after finding a multitude of health code violations, including rusty tools, at a dental practice in Tulsa.
Authorities said they were still determining whether the infections were connected with unsanitary practices at W. Scott Harrington’s two offices in Tulsa and a Tulsa suburb, which prompted officials to notify 7,000 of the dentist's patients.
Of the 3,122 patients tested thus far, 57 tested positive for hepatitis C, three tested positive for hepatitis B, and at least one person tested positive for HIV, officials said. (State health rules prohibit reporting specific HIV cases that number fewer than three, but officials confirmed that patients had tested positive.)
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C have been connected with liver disease, and HIV is the precursor for AIDS. All three are commonly transmitted through blood, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls hepatitis B transmission a "major concern" for dentists, yet notes that transmission in the U.S. has been rare since regulatory controls were implemented in the 1980s.
An investigation of Harrington’s practice found numerous major violations of the state’s Dental Act, including contamination of some instruments and questions about the effectiveness of sterilization of instruments, officials previously told the Los Angeles Times.
Harrington had been practicing for 36 years before voluntarily shutting down his clinic March 20 after state officials found hepatitis C and HIV in a patient.
When investigators paid a surprise visit to Harrington's office March 18, officials couldn't find dental permits for Harrington's assistants, but they did find expired drugs, rusted and poorly sterilized tools, and open vials of medication, according to state records.
Officials said many of the Hepatitis C cases probably did not stem from Harrington's practice, as 68,000 Oklahomans probably have the disease.
“This is a complex investigation,” Oklahoma state epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said in a 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 did not contest a temporary suspension of his license and will appear in front of the state's dental board Aug. 16 to face the allegations.