It was reported this week, following an investigation into an Oklahoma dentist accused of potentially exposing patients to disease, that there was one confirmed case of patient-to-patient hepatitis C transmission.
According to CNN, a total of 89 of W. Scott Harrington's patients tested positive for hepatitis C, but at this point only the one case has been directly tied to his dental practice in suburban Tulsa, officials said.
Four cases of HIV were also found in his patients; the CDC is conducting testing to determine whether those cases are tied to the dental office.
"This is the first documented report of patient-to-patient transmission of hepatitis C virus associated with a dental setting in the United States," state epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley tells CNN.
"While dental procedures are generally safe, this reinforces the importance of adhering to strict infection control procedures in dental settings."
Click here to read more from CNN.
The American Dental Association (ADA) has released the following statement regarding the news out of Tulsa:
“The ADA is deeply concerned about the first confirmed report of patient to patient transmission of hepatitis C in a dental practice setting linked to improper infection control practices. The ADA wishes to assure the public that patient health and safety are top priorities for the Association.
“This is a highly atypical and disconcerting case,” said ADA President Robert A. Faiella, D.M.D., M.M.Sc. “Every day, hundreds of thousands of dental procedures are performed safely and effectively thanks to the diligence of dentists who follow standard infection control precautions developed by the Centers for Disease Control.”
Dr. Faiella added, “While this is an isolated case, it understandably raises questions about infection control in the dental office. The ADA encourages people to talk with their dentists, who will be glad to explain or demonstrate their infection control procedures.”
The statement issued today is part of an interim status report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Tulsa Health Department on the results of their joint investigation of the dental surgical practice with offices in Tulsa and Owasso. The oral surgeon involved in the case voluntarily surrendered his license to practice.
The investigation began March 28 when public health officials notified the practice’s former patients that they may have been exposed to blood-borne viruses.
An epidemiological investigation indicated that one case of transmission of the virus occurred in the dental practice. The transmission was described as “patient-to-patient” because improper infection control procedures caused the virus to be passed from one patient to another. Genetic-based testing of patient specimens by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided laboratory confirmation of the finding.
The ADA has long recommended that all practicing dentists, dental team members and dental laboratories use standard precautions as described in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health Care-Settings.
Standard precautions protect patients and health care workers by preventing the spread of disease. Examples of infection control in the dental office include the use of masks, gloves, surface disinfectants and sterilizing reusable dental devices.
- Before any patient enters the examining room, all surfaces, such as the dental chair, dental light, instrument tray, drawer handles and countertops, have been cleaned and decontaminated. Some offices may cover this equipment with protective covers, which are replaced after each patient.
- Non-disposable items like dental instruments are cleaned and sterilized between patient appointments.
- Disposable dental instruments and needles are never re-used.
- Infection control precautions also require all dental staff involved in patient care to use appropriate protective garb such as gloves, masks, gowns and eyewear.
- After each patient, all disposable wear items, such as gloves, are discarded.
- Before seeing the next patient, the members of the treatment team cleanse their hands and put on new gloves.
More information on infection control in dental offices is available online on the ADA consumer website Mouthhealthy.org.