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Agency: Some in Okla. health scare could be missed




 

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Monday it's using social media and other means to try to find every patient of a Tulsa oral surgeon whose two clinics were deemed unsanitary — but conceded there could be an unknown number of patients who couldn't be reached via mail.

In late March, health officials urged roughly 7,000 patients of Dr. W. Scott Harrington to be tested for hepatitis and the virus that causes AIDS. As of Monday, about 5,500 letters had been sent out to Harrington's patients and 650 have been returned, said Leslea Bennett-Webb, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

"Given that the U.S. population is so mobile, there are inherent challenges in locating persons for whom we only have contact information from records that date back a number of years," Webb said Monday. "We will use all of our available tools to find a current address to send the patient notification letter, but we know there will be a small percentage of persons that we will not be able to reach via the postal service."

Webb said Monday health departments will use social media, agency websites and media releases to find those patients. She said it was too soon to estimate how many patients could ultimately be deemed unreachable.

Harrington's patients were urged to get tests after investigators found unsanitary conditions at his two Tulsa-area clinics, including varying cleaning procedures for equipment, needles re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use, drug vials used on multiple patients and no written infection-protection procedure. Unlicensed dental assistants were also allegedly performing IV sedation.

Harrington's attorney didn't return a message seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Previously, his attorney in Tulsa said the doctor was cooperating with the investigation and that his record with the state's dentistry board was "impeccable."

More than 3,700 patients have been tested since March at clinics in Oklahoma.

Tulsa's Health Department reported last week that four more of Harrington's patients had tested positive for hepatitis C, bringing the total to 69. One more patient had tested positive for hepatitis B, bringing that total to four. One or two patients tested positive for HIV.

It's not clear if the patients got the diseases at the clinic. Officials noted in their investigation that Harrington's staff had said they knew several already-infected patients came to the clinic.



 


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Information in this article was accurate in May 6, 2013. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.