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Tulsa Dentists May Have Infected Dozens With Hep C, Others With Hep B And HIV

Apr 19, 2013 11:47 AM EDT
Dentist Extracts Teeth

(Photo : REUTERS/Mark Makela)

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and Tulsa Health Department (THD) announced Thursday that of the 3,122 people for whom testing has been completed in regards to a local oral surgeon health scandal, 57 tested positive for hepatitis C, 3 for hepatitis B and while positive results have been reported for HIV, the OSDH Data Security Policy regarding HIV disclosure prohibits public reporting of numbers less than three.

In all, 7,000 people are thought to potentially have been exposed to one of these three diseases in the office of W. Scott Harrington who voluntarily stopped practicing after investigators found sanitation breeches at his office. 

"We understand these first reported test results may be of concern," THD Director Dr. Bruce Dart said in a press release. However, he assured the public, "thorough investigations are routinely conducted upon notification of a positive report for these infections" and in this case, the response would be no different. 

Both agencies have begun to notify individuals who were tested of their results and said they would contact personally those who tested positive in order to provide medical counseling and information. 

Furthermore, health officials said they will recommend testing for a spouse or partner where appropriate.

"This is a complex investigation," State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said, explaining that the next phase included identifying through in-depth interviews the likelihood that people who tested positive contracted the disease via their dental surgical procedure.

"We will certainly continue to keep the public informed as we learn more," Bradley said.

According to current data from the agencies, as many as 68,000 Oklahomans may be infected with hepatitis C, making it likely that not all cases in the current investigation originated in the dentist chair. The agencies further estimate there are 4,944 individuals with HIV/AIDS living in the state.

Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States with an estimated 3 to 4 million people infected with it, according to the press release. 

Tests used to identify hepatitis B and C as well as HIV are based on the body's immune response to infection and most will begin to test positive within weeks of exposure if infected. However, those who test negative prior to six months after exposure are encouraged to be re-tested after six months.

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