Dentist Facing Criminal Charges for Exposing Thousands to HIV

As if the fear of a dentist’s chair wasn’t already bad enough… The Tulsa Health Department recently warned thousands of patients of a local dentist that they may have contracted HIV, hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C due to poorly cleaned dental instruments.  Of the 3,122 patients tested thus far, 57 tested positive for hepatitis C, three tested positive for hepatitis B, and at least one person tested positive for HIV according to recent reports. The cause? Dr. W. Scott Harrington allegedly re-used needles and used rusty instruments on patients with known infectious diseases, which could have put many at risk, according to a complaint filed by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry.

Harrington’s investigation reportedly began when a patient with no prior history of illness tested positive for hepatitis C and HIV. Health officials determined that the patient underwent a dental procedure at the approximate time of likely exposure, which led investigators to an unannounced visit of Harrington’s offices where they found abhorrent practices. 

“The basic things that everyone knows — follow CDC guidelines, use clean syringes, don’t reuse multi-dose vials in multiple patients, don’t use rusted equipment — those are things even non-physicians know,” board president Susan Rogers told ABC News . “Those are basic things. That part makes it egregious.”

Harrington, who had been practicing for more than 30 years before voluntarily surrendering his dental license recently, could face criminal charges. A hearing before the state dentistry board is set for August.

Perhaps this is a good time for a reminder regarding appropriate sterilization processes and procedures to help limit professional liability exposure.  A good to-do list for dentists is provided here:  

  • All instruments should be cleaned in a designated central processing area to help control quality and ensure safety;
  • There should be multiple sections at these stations: receiving, cleaning and decontamination; preparation and packaging; sterilization; and storage; and
  • Automated cleaning methods are encouraged to increase productivity, improve cleaning effectiveness and decrease worker exposure to blood and bodily fluids.

 


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