The office of a Tulsa dentist who may have exposed as many as 7,000 patients to HIV or hepatitis due to unsanitary conditions at his clinics (USA Today/AP)
TULSA (USA Today) -- The Tulsa health department is opening a free testing clinic Saturday for as many as 7,000 dental patients who may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C from a dentist cited as a health "menace" because of alleged unsanitary conditons at his two dental clinics.
Dr. W. Scott Harrington, an oral surgeon in Tulsa for more than 30 years, is accused of unsanitary practices, including using rusty instruments and lax sterilization procedures.
He has surrendered his license, voluntarily closed his two Tulsa-area clinics and is cooperating with health officials, according to Kaitlin Snider, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department.
A free testing clinic is being opened Saturday morning in Tulsa and will continue next week for 7,000 patients, notified by letter, who may have been exposed since 2007, when the earliest patient information is available. A hot\llne is also being set up.
State Epidemiologist Kristy Bradley emphasized Friday that the public should not panic because exposure to HIV, hepatitis B and Hepiatitis C through an outpatient dental clinic is rare.
"I want to stress that this is not an outbreak," she told reporters.
Harrington's, whose Tulsa practice is in a thriving part of town, stopped practicing March 20 after the Oklahoma Dentistry Board lodged a 17-count complaint against him, calling Harrington a "menace to the public health by reasons of practicing dentistry in an unsafe or unsanitary manner."
The complaint said the clinic's alleged sloppy handling of needles and drugs used in operations "cause(s) great risk of cross-contamination."
Susan Rogers, executive director of the state Dentistry Board, said that Harrington, as an oral surgeon, regularly performed invasive procedures involving "pulling teeth, open wounds, open blood vessels."
The board's complaint also noted Harrington and his staff told investigators a "high population of known infectious disease carrier patients" received dental care from him.
Among the claims was one detailing the use of rusty instruments in patients known to have infectious diseases.
"The CDC has determined that rusted instruments are porous and cannot be properly sterilized," the board said.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health zeroed in on the clinic through a little detective work after a patient with no known risk factors tested positive for both hepatitis C and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The department matched the patient's most likely period of exposure to an appointment for a dental procedure at the clinic.
The board also found poor record-keeping of dangerous drugs, including the presence of at least one drug vial with a 1993 expiration date.
According to the complaint, the clinic had varying cleaning procedures for its equipment, needles were re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use and the office had no written infection-protection procedure.
The complaint said that during the inspections of the clinic, Harrington referred to his staff regarding all sterilization and drug procedures in the office, saying, "They take care of that, I don't."
Other alleged violations included permitting some assistants to perform some levels of sedation on patients that only a licensed dentist may legally carry out. Such violations are treated as a felony.
"The office looked clean," said Joyce Baylor, who had a tooth pulled at Harrington's Tulsa office 1½ years ago. In an interview, Baylor, 69, said she'll be tested next week to determine whether she contracted any infection, the AP reported.
"I'm sure he's not suffering financially that he can't afford instruments," Baylor said of Harrington.
Harrington could not be reached for comment Thursday, the Associated Press said. A message at his Tulsa office said it was closed, and the doctor's answering service referred callers to the Tulsa Health Department. Phone numbers listed for Harrington were disconnected. A message left with Harrington's malpractice attorney in Tulsa, Jim Secrest II, was not immediately returned.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is consulting on the case, and agency spokeswoman Abbigail ?Tumpey said such situations involving dental clinics are rare.
Last year a Colorado oral surgeon was accused of reusing needles and syringes, prompting letters to 8,000 patients, Tumpey said. It wasn't clear whether anyone was actually infected.