Written By Dr. Marc Siegel for Fox News
The shocking news that thousands of patients who visited Dr. Scott Harrington’s Oklahoma oral surgery practice since 2007 may have been exposed to hepatitis B, C, and HIV as well as unsanitary and non-sterile conditions, is a wake-up call for doctors, patients, and especially health departments everywhere.
This is not to say that dental practices everywhere fall into the same pattern of inadequately sterilized equipment, reused needles, expired medications, or dental assistants administering intravenous medication without a doctor present.
But what lengths are the state of Oklahoma and other states going to in order to make sure that these gross violations and gross mistreatments aren’t taking place in more than just one dentist’s office?
The greatest concern is viral hepatitis. According to the CDC, more than 4 million Americans are chronically infected and most don’t know it.
The greatest risk from contaminated equipment and reusing needles is from hepatitis B. Despite the fact that 65 percent of health care workers are now vaccinated against hepatitis B (with a rate of effectiveness that approaches 95 percent), nevertheless, 12,000 health care workers are still infected every year and a third of them go on to develop a clinical illness.
After being stuck by a needle contaminated by hepatitis B, close to 30 percent developed the disease. There have been several hundred reported cases of patients who have developed hepatitis B after being exposed to contaminated medical products or stuck by a contaminated needle.
The risk is much lower for hepatitis C, despite the fact that there is no protective vaccine, with a recent study showing that only 0.5- 3% of health care workers developed the disease after being stuck by a contaminated needle.
But despite the fact that hepatitis C is much more difficult to get than hepatitis B from a single blood exposure, worldwide contamination from unsafe injections and the use of contaminated medical equipment are a primary reason for the virus reaching epidemic proportions.