Dental patients test positive for hepatitis

April 25, 2013

State health officials have reported 57 cases of hepatitis C , three cases of hepatitis B and as many as three with HIV among patients of Tulsa dental surgeon W. Scott Harrington.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Public Health Laboratory is providing the laboratory analysis on specimens collected from that patient list. The lab has completed testing for 3,122 patients.

“We understand these first reported test results may be of concern,” said Tulsa Health Department  Director Dr. Bruce Dart. “Thorough investigations are routinely conducted upon notification of a positive report for these infections. This response will be handled in the same manner, as disease investigation is a core public health service and staff are well trained to conduct this type of response.”

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and Tulsa Health Department (THD) announced the first round of results related to testing of patients.

On March 28, public health officials advised they were notifying current and former patients of the practice that they may have been exposed to blood-borne viruses at Harrington’s Tulsa and Owasso offices. Health officials recommended these patients have their blood drawn for testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV infection at free screening clinics established at the Tulsa Health Department, Oklahoma City-County Health Department and other county health departments in the state.

OSDH Data Security Policy regarding HIV disclosure prohibits public reporting of numbers less than 3.

The OSDH and THD have begun notifying persons who participated in the screening of their test results. Those persons whose tests are positive are being personally contacted and counseled about information specific to the disease for which the test was positive, and they will be directed to resources for appropriate care and follow up. If warranted, testing will be recommended for a spouse or partner.

“This is a complex investigation,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. “The next phase will include more in-depth interviews of persons who test positive to determine the likelihood that their exposure is associated with their dental surgical procedure at the Harrington practice. We will certainly continue to keep the public informed as we learn more.”

Based on current Oklahoma disease prevalence data for hepatitis B and C and HIV, health officials recognize some of the positive screening tests are likely a result of infection exposure not related to dental procedures at the Harrington practice.

From the most recent data available, an estimated 4,944 persons are living with HIV/AIDS in Oklahoma and as many as 68,000 Oklahomans may be infected with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States and is an increasing cause of morbidity and mortality.  Hepatitis C causes inflammation of the liver that can lead to chronic health issues.

Many of the approximately three to four million persons living with hepatitis C in the U.S. are unaware they are infected and do not receive care or treatment. Hepatitis B, a contagious liver disease, is spread when blood, semen or other body fluid infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person not infected.

Tests used to identify hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV are based on the body’s immune response to infection. Persons infected will begin to test positive within weeks with almost all testing positive within six months of exposure. Persons who are tested prior to six months after exposure and are found to be negative should be tested again at six months after exposure to assure they are negative.

More than 3,235 people have visited county health departments throughout the state to have their blood drawn for testing as part of this public health response. An unknown number of persons have sought testing through their private health care provider.

In the Tulsa metropolitan area, screening continues weekdays at the North Regional Health and Wellness Center, 5635 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Patients are advised to call the North Regional Health and Wellness Center directly at 918-595-4380 to schedule an appointment.  Walk-ins will still be accepted, however appointments are recommended in order to minimize wait times.

Anyone who was a patient at Harrington’s dental practice should contact the Patient Information hotline at 918-595-4500 with questions. Public health representatives will be available during from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.