Dentist at center of hepatitis scare cedes license

August 22, 2014 - 12:07 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma oral surgeon whose filthy clinic conditions led to the testing of thousands of patients for HIV and hepatitis permanently surrendered his professional license on Friday.

Scott Harrington's two Tulsa-area clinics have been closed since March 2013, when state health officials urged about 7,000 of his current and former patients to get tested for the diseases because of unsanitary conditions discovered there.

Of the 4,202 patients who were tested at state clinics, 89 tested positive for hepatitis C, five for hepatitis B and four for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But only one of those cases — a case of hepatitis C — was proven to have been contracted at one of Harrington's clinics, health officials said. Investigators said last September that it was nation's first known case of hepatitis C transmission between patients in a dental office.

State health inspectors say investigators found rusty instruments and potentially contaminated drug vials at Harrington's clinics, and that a machine designed to sterilize tools wasn't being used properly.

Harrington, who cooperated with the investigation, voluntarily surrendered his license to the state's dentistry board. His attorney, James Secrest II, said earlier this year that the investigation had been "very hard" on Harrington.

"This guy spent over 30 years in a career, and he's just watching it go away in a matter of hours," Secrest said in April. "His career has been ruined in Tulsa."

Harrington, 66, did not attend Friday's board meeting in Oklahoma City. Secrest attended the meeting but left without commenting.

Harrington has had to defend himself against several lawsuits, including a pending one filed by a Tulsa-area man who says his hepatitis C diagnosis was what led the state to shutter the clinics.

In his lawsuit, the patient says he found out he had been exposed to the disease after he donated blood in August 2012. Because his blood had been fine during a donation several months earlier, he surmised that he must have been exposed to the virus at one of Harrington's clinics, where he had been given drugs intravenously while having a tooth removed in July 2012.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus is commonly spread through the sharing of needles in intravenous drug use, and symptoms can occur two weeks after exposure, according to the agency.

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Associated Press writer Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa contributed to this report.

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