Dentist may have exposed 7,000 patients to HIV, hepatitis

Oral surgeon has been deemed 'a menace to public health'

Topics: Access to Care, Quality, Performance Improvement, Safety, Patient Experience

April 1, 2013

Oklahoma health officials over the weekend began testing the patients of an oral surgeon whose allegedly unsanitary practices may have exposed them to HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry launched an investigation after a patient of dentist W. Scott Harrington tested positive for hepatitis C and HIV despite having no known risk factors. The investigation concluded that Harrington had committed "numerous violations of health and safety laws," including practicing with equipment that was not properly sterilized and had become rusted. Alleged violations also include allowing dental assistants to administer heavy sedation, distributing expired prescription medicine, and using the same vial of medicine for numerous patients.

Harrington has been charged with 17 counts and deemed "a menace to public health," according to the dentistry board.

The state's health department sent letters to 7,000 patients that Harrington treated since 2007, although more patients may have been exposed. Tulsa Health Department spokesperson Kaitlin Snider notes that Harrington has been practicing for 36 years and it remains "uncertain how long those practices have been in place."

The state health board is offering no-cost testing at a Tulsa clinic for the dentist's patients.

Harrington has voluntarily forfeited his license and closed his offices. Snider says the dentist is cooperating with investigators  (AP/Modern Healthcare, 3/29 [subscription required]; Koppel, Wall Street Journal, 3/29; Castillo, CNN, 3/29; Lackey/Winter, USA Today, 3/28).

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