Tulsa Dentist Causes Unique Outbreak

Never before had there been an outbreak of hepatitis C among dental patients. But that was prior to a Tulsa, Okla. dentist using rusty equipment and dirty needles in his practice.

Dr. W. Scott Harrington’s practice was shut down in March after a surprise inspection showed that there were major problems in his sterilization processes. Since then, at least 89 of his patients have tested positive for hepatitis C.

Harrington allegedly reused needles, something that can clearly contaminate drugs with disease-causing pathogens. He maintained a separate set of tools for patients that he knew carried an infectious disease, based on the information ascertained by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry. The tools had clear signs of red-brown rust spots, showing that it wasn’t possible to properly sterilize them.

Harrington didn’t follow any of the basic, common-sense sterilization procedures that need to be followed by any dental practice.

There were more than 7,000 patients from Harrington’s clinics who received letters explaining the possible risks of infection and that each person should take advantage of a free blood test. There were 4,202 total people tested and 89 came up positive for hepatitis C, five for hepatitis B and four for HIV. An unknown number of people also were tested by private clinics.

The diseases other then hepatitis C did not necessarily come from being treated by Harrington or his lack of proper sterilization. Genetic testing for HIV is still ongoing and a final report on that will be issued after the testing concludes.

The test was necessitated after a patient with no documented risk factors tested positive for hepatitis C and HIV.

Federal, state and local funds for the case have exceeded $710,000 in costs, according to information from the state department of health.