Rogue Dentist HIV: Did Wayne Harrington Allow 7,000 Patients To Contract HIV, Hepatitis?

By Jason Van Hoven on March 28, 2013 11:05 PM EDT

Rogue Dentist HIV
According to Tulsa Health Department's release, Harrington and his office voluntarily discontinued practicing upon the beginning of the HIV/hepatitis investigation. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A rogue dentist from Oklahoma may have allowed 7,000 of his patients to contract HIV, hepatitis or both, according to reports.

ABC News reported that The Tulsa Health Department is warning 7,000 patients of Dr. Wayne Harrington in Tulsa, Okla. that they could have contracted HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C from poor sterilization practices. Harrington, an oral surgeon with his own practice, is being investigated by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, the state bureau of narcotics and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency because one particular patient recently tested positive for both hepatitis C and HIV without known risk factors other than receiving dental treatment.

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Soon after hearing about the infected patient, the board conducted a surprise inspection of Harrington's practice on March 18, supposedly finding frequent use of a rusty set of instruments on patients with known infections and the practice of pouring bleach on wounds until they "turned white."

On top of Harrington's numerous violations in sanitary practice, he was also a Medicaid provider, which means he had a high proportion of patients with HIV or hepatitis, according to Susan Rogers, executive director of the board. Harrington and his staff even told investigators that he treated a "high population of known infectious disease carrier patients," according to a complaint filed by the board.

Under Harrington were allegedly unlicensed dental assistants that were allowed to administer medication, the complaint stated. These assistants were essentially left to decide which medications to administer and how much was appropriate.

It's also alleged that drug cabinets were unlocked and unsupervised during the day. Furthermore, Harrington didn't keep an inventory log of drugs, some of which were controlled substances.

One drug vial expired all the way back in 1993.

"During the inspections, Dr. Harrington referred to his staff regarding all sterilization and drug procedures in his office," the complaint read. "He advised, 'They take care of that. I don't.'"

Harrington allegedly also re-used needles, contaminating drugs with potentially harmful bacteria and trace amounts of other drugs, and falsified records -- although patient-specific drug records indicated that they were using morphine in 2012, no morphine had actually been ordered since 2009.

Joseph Perz, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that while it's "extremely rare" to see dental transmission of HIV and hepatitis B or C to patients, it's not impossible. As such, Harrington's case isn't the only case of a rogue dentist involved in an HIV scandal.

In July 2012, 8,000 people in Colorado were notified that their dentist had reused needles, potentially exposing them to HIV. But, not a single case was identified, according to the CDC. Also in July 2012, more than 1,800 veterans who received dental care at a St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center were warned that poor sterilization practices may have exposed them to HIV and hepatitis. Perz also cited a dental fair three years ago in which hepatitis B was transmitted between patients.

The Tulsa Health Department said in a release on Thursday that all of Harrington's patients will receive letters by mail notifying them of the HIV/hepatitis risk and testing. Specifically, all testing will be done free of charge at the Tulsa Health Department's North Regional Health and Wellness Center located at 5635 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Testing will be provided on a walk-in basis starting on Saturday, March 30 from 10:00 a.m. CT to 2:00 p.m. CT and will resume on weekdays beginning Monday, April 1 from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CT. A hotline has also been set up a hotline at (918) 595-4500 for people with questions.

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