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Medical professionals have to take extreme care when treating patients to minimise the risks of spreading dangerous infections and viruses. So the news that patients of a now-closed US dental practice may have been exposed to hepatitis or HIV will come as a shock to everyone.
The clinic in Arizona was shut down in 2010 but health officials are now contacting more than 170 patients who may have been exposed to blood-borne pathogens because of improperly installed dental equipment.
The equipment in question was an air compressor used to vacuum out patients’ mouths and to sluice their mouths with water. As the compressor was not properly installed, there is a high risk of cross-contamination with patients potentially being infected with the medical waste of other patients.
To date, no cases have been identified but health officials are anxious to speak to every patient from the practice to ensure they undergo screening for hepatitis B and C and HIV.
The Arizona Department of Health Services is carrying out the probe and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention are overseeing the investigation. The matter came to light when the equipment was sold at auction to a different dentist and is now the subject of a lawsuit.
Health officials are insisting that the risk of infection is very low and there have only been a handful of cases of HIV and hepatitis B being transmitted in a dental setting with none of hepatitis C.
However, the case does raise worrying questions. Patients have to have complete trust in their medical professionals and be confident that all precautions and procedures are being followed to the letter.