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57 Patients Got Hepatitis C From Oklahoma HIV Dentist, Thousands More Being Tested

By Hilda Scott , Apr 19, 2013 12:34 PM EDT
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Former patients of the Oklahoma oral surgeon accused of exposing patients to hepatitis and HIV tested positive for hepatitis. Thursday, the Tulsa City-County Health Department announced that 57 former patients have hepatitis C. Three tested positive for hepatitis B and less than three tested positive for HIV.

W. Scott Harrington, the oral surgeon under scrutiny, kept unsanitary conditions at his office, which exposed at least 7,000 patients to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Results of an investigation at his office found that he was using rusty equipment and not properly sterilizing equipment. After almost 36 years of being a dentist, Harrington surrendered his license on March 20, voluntarily.

Health officials said that some of the positive test results were not contracted from his practice and that the results don't mean that the disease was contracted there.

"We don't know yet, so this is just the beginning of a more complex, epidemiologic investigation where we're going to be interviewing those persons who have positive results and collecting a lot more information from them," Kristy Bradley, state epidemiologist, said.

The state health department will start to question those who tested positive about their risk factors for the disease. Patients will also be asked about their dental history, including when their dental procedures took place and what medications were administered.

"As we know, some of these infections could have been longstanding for some time and the person may have come in contact with the virus unknowingly through other means and they just became infected without becoming aware of it until they were tested as part of this public health response," Bradley said.

The investigation will focus on the period between March 2012 to March 2013 and will look for instances of cross-contamination of medication vials and equipment that may have occurred between patients. Test results were completed for 3,122 former dental patients of Harrington and 3,235 people so far have undergone testing through the Oklahoma State Health Department. 

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