A Tulsa-area dentist whose practice was shut down because his equipment was rusty and his employees reused needles was responsible for the nation’s first transmission of hepatitis C to between patients in a dental office, Oklahoma health officials said.
Citing genetic testing performed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oklahoma’s state epidemiologist said there was at least one instance in which Dr. W. Scott Harrington‘s practice spread an infectious disease.
“This is the first documented report of patient-to-patient transmission of hepatitis C virus associated with a dental setting in the United States,” Dr. Kristy Bradley said in a statement. “While dental procedures are generally safe, this reinforces the importance of adhering to strict infection control procedures in dental settings.”
State health inspectors shut down Harrington’s clinic March 28 after finding unsanitary conditions.
Health officials urged tests for 7,000 of Harrington’s patients to determine whether they had contracted an infectious disease. Of 4,202 tested at state clinics, 89 tested positive for hepatitis C, five for hepatitis B and four for the virus that causes AIDS. In only one instances was it proven that the virus was contracted at a clinic, Bradley said.
The state said genetic testing of HIV specimens are continuing at the CDC.
“While our investigation documents the transmission of hepatitis C, we have no reason to believe the hepatitis B cases resulted from exposure in this dental practice,” Bradley said.
The 17-count complaint filed by the state called Harrington a “menace to the public health.” The complaint said officials found rusty instruments, potentially contaminated drug vials and improper use of a machine designed to sterilize tools at Harrington’s two Tulsa-area offices.
Harrington had been a dentist for 36 years before voluntarily giving up his license March 20.
The public alert began after a patient of Harrington’s initially tested positive for HIV in a screening at a third-party provider.