Used needles, rusty tools at Oklahoma dentist’s office linked to hepatitis C infections outbreak

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by Michael Heygood

A Tulsa, Oklahoma dentist’s office has been shut down over accusations of using rusty equipment and dirty needles on patients. Health authorities say that dozens of patients of Dr. W. Scott Harrington have tested positive for hepatitis C after being exposed to contaminated medical equipment. A small number of positive HIV and hepatitis B tests have also been reported.

Authorities became aware of the problems at Harrington’s clinic when a surprise inspection in March 2013 revealed that staff members were failing to observe basic safety protocols. Inspectors found that Harrington’s office regularly reused needles on multiple patients and used rusty equipment that could make it easier to transmit diseases between patients.

The hepatitis C cases identified at Harrington’s clinic are the first known cases involving the transmission of the diseases through a dentist’s office in the U.S. So far, health officials say that 89 patients have tested positive for hepatitis C. Authorities have also identified five patients who tested positive for hepatitis B and four who tested positive for HIV. Oklahoma officials are uncertain whether these cases originated at Harrington’s office.

Harrington’s clinic has been closed since March while officials are investigating the extent of the hepatitis outbreak that originated there. State authorities have sent letters to more than 7,000 patients at the clinic notifying them that they need to be tested for hepatitis C due to their risk of exposure.

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Patients who entrust their health to the care of a doctor have a right to know that these physicians, their medical staff, and the facilities where they operate will exercise proper care in treating their illnesses. When doctors and other medical personnel engage in negligent practices that cause injury or other forms of harm to their patients, we believe that they should be held accountable for their wrongdoing.

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