TULSA, Okla. (AP) – More than five-dozen patients of an Oklahoma oral surgeon whose clinics were deemed unsanitary have tested positive for infectious diseases, but health officials cautioned Thursday that it would be highly unusual for many of them to have contracted the illnesses at his clinic.
Authorities urged Dr. W. Scott Harrington’s roughly 7,000 patients to get tested last month after finding 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, among others.
A message left with Harrington’s Tulsa attorney seeking comment was not immediately returned Thursday afternoon. Previously, his attorney said Harrington was cooperating with investigators and noted that his previous record with the state’s dental board was “impeccable.”
Harrington, who has been a dentist for 36 years, voluntarily surrendered his credentials on March 20. He faces an Aug. 16 license revocation hearing.
Tulsa’s Health Department said Thursday clinics across Oklahoma have tested more than 3,200 patients and of them, 57 tested positive for hepatitis C, three for hepatitis B and one or two for HIV. Officials noted in their investigation that Harrington’s staff had said they knew several patients came to the clinic already infected.
Kaitlin Snider, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department, said officials have just begun notifying those patients who tested positive for the diseases, and that it was “premature to draw any conclusions based on where they may have been infected.”
“That is going to be part of our disease investigation,” Snider said Thursday. “We knew this was going to be a marathon response effort on our end, and it will be months before we’re able to release a final report (of the investigation).”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says spreading disease at a dental clinic is extremely rare, with just three known cases in two decades.
“We understand these first reported test results may be of concern,” Bruce Dart, director of Tulsa’s Health Department, said in a statement Thursday. “Thorough investigations are routinely conducted upon notification of a positive report for these infections. This response will be handled in the same manner, as disease investigation is a core public health service and staff are well trained to conduct this type of response.”
State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said the next phase of the investigation involves in-depth interviews of those who tested positive to determine “the likelihood that their exposure is associated with their dental surgical procedure at the Harrington practice.”
The state’s dentistry board, which branded Harrington a “menace to the public health” in a 17-count complaint, also found in its investigation of his two clinics that his dental assistants performed some tasks reserved to a licensed dentist, such as administering IV sedation. It also found that a device used to sterilize equipment hadn’t undergone required monthly tests in at least six years.
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