Oklahoma Dentist Exposed Patients to Risk of Hepatitis, HIV, Other Disease

An Oklahoma oral surgeon has been labeled a “menace to public health” by state officials, after it was discovered that he put thousands of patients at risk of blood borne infections, such as HIV or hepatitis. 

The Oklahoma State Department of Health recommended last week that about 7,000 patients known to have been treated at the dental practice of Dr. W. Scott Harrington get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C, after one patient tested positive for both HIV and hepatitis C.

Harrington has been charged with 17 health and safety violations by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, and the dental practice in the heart of Tulsa has been shut down.

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The laundry list of health issues found at the site include rusty surgical instruments, drugs that expired in 1993, unlicensed assistants performing oral surgery, and the re-use of needles. Combined with what Harrington and his staff describe as a high volume of HIV and hepatitis-infected patients, state and federal officials involved with the investigation are concerned that the diseases may have been unwittingly spread to others.

The Tulsa Health Department offered free testing on Saturday, March 30 and Monday, April 1. The investigators warn that the 7,000 patients being notified by mail about the risk represent only the patients they have records for, dating back seven years. However, Harrington has had his practice for 36 years, and it is unknown how long the unsafe practices have been in effect. Patients prior to 2007 who are at risk may not be notified.

Harrington surrendered his credentials on March 20 and his practice is now closed. State officials say he is cooperating with the investigation. He faces a hearing on April 19 before the dentistry board, which could result in a permanent loss of his license.

In the complaint lodged against him, the board called him a “menace to public health by reasons of practicing dentistry in an unsafe or unsanitary manner.”

Harrington’s office reportedly had no infection control policy, and Harrington himself said he left that to his employees to handle.

Current and former patients of Harrington will be tested for free if they were notified by mail by the Tulsa Health Department at the North Regional Health and Wellness Center, 5635 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Patients with questions can call the patient information hotline at (918) 595-4500.

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