More than 1,200 students in the Seattle area may have been exposed to diseases such as hepatitis and HIV at 12 school-based dental clinics.
Neighborcare Health, the provider that operates the clinics, wrote in a letter to parents that some dental handpieces were disinfected but not fully heat sterilized.
This may have led to bacteria and bodily fluids from patients getting caked into the crevices of the instruments, reported KING 5.
Students in Seattle were potentially exposed prior to March 4 while kids in nearby Vashon Island may have been exposed between September 2017 and March 2018.
About 1,250 students may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C at 12 school-based dental clinics in Seattle and Vashon Island in Washington
According to a statement from Neighborcare, the handpieces, which hold instruments, were cleaned with CaviCide, a surface disinfectant.
The product label claims that within two minutes, it can kill microorganisms linked to HIV and hepatitis B and C.
However, staff did not put the handpieces in an autoclave, which is a chamber that cleans equipment by exposing it to pressurized steam, which is required under Neighborcare policy.
The agency says that the issue was discovered on March 4 and it has since re-trained its school-based dental staff on proper hygiene practices.
It’s also offering free testing for all 1,250 patients that may have been affected.
SCHOOLS AFFECTED IN THE SEATTLE AREA
- Bailey Gazert Elementary
- Beacon Hill International
- Chief Sealth International
- Denny International
- Highland Park Elementary
- Madison Middle School
- Mercer Middle School
- Van Asselt Elementary
- Roxhill Elementary
- West Seattle Elementary
- Chautauqua Elementary
- McMurray Middle School
Hepatitis B and C are liver diseases caused by the hep B and C viruses, respectively, and both are commonly spread from bodily fluids or from exposure to contaminated blood or needles.
Contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, means a lifetime of several different drugs that control the virus from multiplying and spreading.
The King County Department of Health says the infection risk is low and that it has not received any reports of infected patients yet.
‘We are sincerely sorry for any distress this incident may have caused our patients, their families, and our partners,’ Neighborcare said in a statement.
‘We are working to be transparent in our understanding of what happened, the actual risk to potentially affected patients, and how we can ensure that this incident will not happen again.’
Neighborcare has come under fire in the past for making serious errors in its care of patients.
In 2013, mother-of-three Yesenia Pacheco sued the clinic after staff gave her a flu shot instead of her birth control injection – resulting in an unwanted pregnancy, reported KIRO 7.
Her youngest daughter, Sandra, was born with a brain malformation that causes neurological problems, such as mild seizures.
The case is still being argued before the US District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle.
This is not the first instance of patients being exposed to blood-borne diseases because of substandard hygiene practices.
Last week, all three locations of Trieu Family Dental in Philadelphia were closed after exposing as many as 1,500 patients to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
Investigators from the city’s Department of Public Health found ‘unsanitary conditions’ including the reuse of needles and the use of equipment that hadn’t been properly sterilized.
In December 2018, a report revealed the HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, may have exposed more than 3,000 patients to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C due to improper drug storage methods, an outdated infection control plan and poor sterilization practices.
The New Jersey Department of Health wrote that operating rooms were not properly cleaned and disinfected between surgeries.