***UPDATED: September 20, 2013*** Investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed the first documented case of patient-to-patient transmission of hepatitis C in the United States, associated with a dental setting. Transmission of the disease is a result of improper infection control procedures at the Tulsa, Oklahoma dental office identified earlier this year in what the president of the Oklahoma Dental Association, Dr. Timothy Fagan, called a “health breach [that] has placed patients at risk.” According to an ADA News article, health officials recommended patients be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV at free screening clinics provided by the Tulsa Health Department. 4,202 patients participated with 89 testing positive for hepatitis C, five for hepatitis B, and four for HIV. Based on Oklahoma statistics, officials recognized that some of the positive results could be unrelated to the dental practice they are investigating. There is still no evidence that any of the hepatitis B or HIV cases were a result of the poor infection control practices.
It’s really no surprise that after Oklahoma dentist, Dr. Scott Harrington, was accused of exposing thousands of his patients to a number of infectious diseases, dentists across the country are being questioned by their patients about their practices. Harrington, who is said to be cooperating fully in the investigation, apparently treated a patient who later tested positive for hepatitis C, and while it is very rare for such a virus to be transmitted through medical facilities who are following standards and regulations, unfortunately, the office in which Harrington practiced fell short of expectations. After inspection by health officials, the oral surgeon’s office was found to be using dirty equipment, including rusty instruments, reused drug vials without changing needles, expired drugs which were being administered by unlicensed assistants, and the sterilization equipment hadn’t been certified in over six years. The health department is now recommending all of Harrington’s 7,000 patients be tested for hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.
Since the investigation (with nationwide media coverage) began, dentists across the country are reporting an increase in patient questioning in regards to infection control practices. One example came out of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Fox 23 report, “Area dentists are receiving more questions from patients,” where Dr. David Wong told reporters that he has been asked predominantly about how often they sterilize the equipment and instruments and how one can tell if they are indeed sterile. Wong claims that he, along with most dentists, orthodontists, and oral surgeons are happy to answer questions, which he believes gives them an opportunity to be completely transparent with patients in order to earn their trust. Reporters also spoke with Sherrie Brown, an independent infection control consultant who works with a number of dentists in the Tulsa area. According to Brown, the news of Harrington’s pending case was shocking, considering how rare it is to contract HIV or Hepatitis B or C in a medical setting. Still, she urges any patient concerned about the issue to discuss those concerns directly with their dentist.
At Miami Dental Sedation Spa, you will find that both Dr. Luis Sanchez and Dr. Gabriel Vidal, along with their friendly and knowledgeable support staff, are happy to discuss any concerns you may have, not only about their sterilization practices, but also about other fears you may be experiencing. Open communication between doctor and patient is always encouraged to facilitate the best possible relationship, a goal which all of the professionals at MDSS strive to achieve.