Health officials said Thursday that thousands of patients of an Oklahoma dentist should undergo testing for HIV and hepatitis after officials investigating the source of a patient's disease discovered instruments weren't being cleaned properly.
The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry said Thursday that state and county health inspectors inspected Dr. W. Scott Harrington's practice after a patient with no other known risk factors tested positive for hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS. At Harrington's clinics, they found multiple sterilization issues, including cross-contamination of instruments and the use of a separate, rusty, set of instruments for patients who were known to carry infectious diseases.
Harrington, an oral surgeon, voluntarily closed his practices in Tulsa and suburban Owasso and is cooperating with investigators, said Kaitlin Snider, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department. He faces a hearing April 19 and could lose his license.
"It's uncertain how long those practices have been in place," said "He's been practicing for 36 years."
Phone numbers for Harrington at his home and offices were disconnected Thursday and it was not clear if he had a lawyer.
Snider said letters would be sent Friday to 7,000 patients who went to Harrington's clinics in Tulsa and suburban Owasso since 2007. The letters recommend testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. The agencies say it is rare for infections to spread in occupational settings but that tests are important.
The Dentistry Board complaint says Harrington and his staff told investigators that a "high population of known infectious disease carrier patients" received dental care from him.
An autoclave used to sterilize all instruments wasn't working properly, the complaint said. The clinic also apparently used outdated drugs, as one vial on the premises this year had an expiration date of 1993, the complaint said.
The health departments said hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV are serious medical conditions and infected patients may not have outward symptoms of the disease for many years. "As a precaution, and in order to take appropriate steps to protect their health, it is important for these patients to get tested. It should be noted that transmission in this type of occupational setting is rare," their statement said.
Testing will be offered free of charge at the Tulsa Health Department's North Regional Health and Wellness Center.