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Oklahoma Dentist May Have Exposed Thousands To Disease

NPR | March 29, 2013 12:10 p.m.

Contributed By:

Korva Coleman

The Oklahoma state health department is contacting some 7,000 patients of Tulsa-area dentist Dr. W. Scott Harrington to warn them they may have been exposed to “blood-borne viruses.” An investigation of his office found rusty instruments in use and many unsanitary practices.

Workers in Harrington’s office also allegedly carried out tasks that only a licensed dentist may perform, including giving IV sedation. More worrisome, as The Associated Press reports, the dentist and his staff told investigators that they treated numerous patients who were ill with infectious diseases. But it’s far from clear that anyone was ever sickened because they were treated by Harrington. Oklahoma state health department epidemiologist Kristy Bradley told the AP there’s still an active investigation. “I want to stress that this is not an outbreak,” she said.

Still, health inspectors aren’t leaving anything to chance. They’ve set up free clinics to test for HIV and hepatitis in Tulsa and they’re urging all patients to come in. They’ve mailed letters to everyone treated over the past seven years, which is as far as the records go back. People treated before 2007 won’t get a letter, but they’re asked to come in anyway. They’ve also set up a hotline for people to call with questions.

Susan Rogers, executive director of Oklahoma’s Board of Dentistry told CNN that when investigators first learned how the dentist’s office was run, “we were just physically kind of sick. I mean, that’s how bad (it was) and I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff over the years.”

The Oklahoma dentistry board says Harrington is cooperating with the probe, and has voluntarily closed his two practices. Rogers adds while it’s not uncommon for dentists to be cited for violations, this case is “very, very unusual,” reports KOTV-TV.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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