Nightly News   |  March 29, 2013

Thousands of dental patients at risk for HIV, Hepatitis

The Board of Dentistry accuses Dr. Scott Harrington of being a “menace to public health” after his patients were exposed to rusty equipment and re-used needles and drug vials. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back in this country, a major health scare for thousands of dental patients in oklahoma. 64-year-old scott harrington has been an oral and facial surgeon in tulsa for decades, but tonight, many of his current and former parktients are living in fear of what they may have been exposed to, hepatitis, perhaps even hiv, in an office that investigators say made them physically sick to visit. our report tonight from nbc 's gabe gutierrez.

>> reporter: oklahoma health officials are calling this dental clinic a perfect storm for infection. it's where joyce baylor says she had a tooth pulled a year and a half ago.

>> it's frightening. it's scary. you don't know if there's anything wrong, and i've been wondering.

>> reporter: today the state health department sent letters to about 7,000 patients who had visited the clinic over the past six years. urging them to get tested for hepatitis and hiv.

>> it's certainly unnerving to know that a dental office was practicing in this way.

>> reporter: in a 17-count complaint, the board of dentistry accuses dr. scott harrington , seen here in an earlier photo, of being a menace to public health after one of his patients tested positive for hepatitis c. inspectors say his clinic had rusty equipment, illegally allowed dental assistants to perform i.v. sedation and reuse needles and drug vials. according to a complaint, one of those vials expired 20 years ago, and a device used to sterilize instruments had not been tested in at least six years.

>> he said, i don't handle that. talk to my assistants. sterilization questions, i don't handle that. talk to my assistants.

>> reporter: tonight the tulsa clinic is closed. the centers for disease control is consulting on the case, and neither dr. harrington nor his attorney have responded to calls from nbc news.

>> the likelihood that someone will actually become sick from this particular exposure in this dental office is very small.

>> reporter: state health officials have started offering free screening tests to dr. harrington's patients. he's voluntarily surrendered his dental license and is cooperating with the investigation. he faces a hearing next month. gabe gutierrez, nbc news, atlanta.