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7,000 Oklahomans Potentially Exposed to HIV & Hepatitis by Tulsa Dentist

Health officials urged approximately 7,000 former patients of Tulsa oral surgeon, Dr. W. Scott Harrington, to be tested for HIV and hepatitis to ensure they have not been exposed to the potentially life threatening diseases.

Patients who have seen Dr. Harrington were warned of their potential exposure to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C when a patient with no known risk factors of the diseases tested positive for HIV and hepatitis C.

The Investigation

During a joint investigation by the Tulsa Health Department and Oklahoma State Department of Health, the inspectors found numerous violations of health and safety laws.

The investigation revealed the dental practice using unsterilized instruments, which is thought to be the means of the transmission of the diseases.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that rusted instruments are porous and cannot be properly sterilized," the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry said in a 17-count complaint against the dentist.

The investigation also uncovered that certain sterilization procedures were not being followed that included monthly tests of instruments sent to a lab to determine that their procedures are successfully sterilizing instruments. However, an AP article revealed a dental assistant said that no such test had been performed during the six years the assistant had been working at Dr. Harrington's office.

Other violations included reusing drug vials, administering drugs without a license and using outdated drugs, as the inspectors found one vial found this year with the expiration date of 1993.

HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C

The Tulsa Health Department is offering free testing for those who may have been exposed to the diseases. Health officials stated the diseases that people are at risk of being exposed to may not show symptoms for many years, and therefore stress the importance of getting tested.

Ordinarily, most people who contract hepatitis C get it by sharing needles or other instruments to inject drugs, not through an occupational setting like a dental practice. The infections can require a lifetime of health care and can cause damage to the liver.

The Tulsa Health Department has been providing the following the handout to answer frequently asked questions about HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Implications for Dr. Harrington

Dr. Harrington is cooperating with investigators by voluntarily giving up his license and closing both his Tulsa and Owasso offices. However, he has a scheduled hearing in front of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry in which he could potentially have his license revoked.

What To Do If You Think You Have Been Exposed

While health officials have sent letters to Dr. Harrington's current patients, they only have records of former patients up until 2007. If you or a loved may be at risk of exposure, Tulsa Health Department advises contacting their hotline at 800-539-0652. The free testing is currently available at Tulsa's North Regional Health and Wellness Center, 5635 N. Martin Luther King Blvd. Details and locations subject to change.

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