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Expert: Tulsa Dentist's Patients Should Be Most Concerned About Hepatitis B

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Dr. Heather Bell, an infectious disease specialist at St. John Medical Center, said it's crucial for people to know what makes them different, and most importantly, to not panic. Dr. Heather Bell, an infectious disease specialist at St. John Medical Center, said it's crucial for people to know what makes them different, and most importantly, to not panic.
The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry says Dr. Scott Harrington may have exposed thousands of his patients to hepatitis or HIV. The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry says Dr. Scott Harrington may have exposed thousands of his patients to hepatitis or HIV.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

Starting this weekend, the Tulsa City-County Health Department is offering free testing for the patients of a dentist at the center of a public health investigation.

The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry says Dr. Scott Harrington may have exposed thousands of his patients to hepatitis or HIV. Patients with questions are urged to call the health department hotline at 918-595-4500.

But we know that for some people, the questions can't wait.

An Infectious disease specialist says becoming infected under circumstances like these is pretty rare.

HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C each have their own way of transmitting and reproducing. Dr. Heather Bell, an infectious disease specialist at St. John Medical Center, said it's crucial for people to know what makes them different, and most importantly, to not panic.

3/28/2013 Related Story: State Board Says Tulsa Dentist's Practice Was Unsafe, Unsanitary

She said she's been watching with great interest, since the health department announced as many as 7,000 patients may have been exposed to hepatitis or HIV from the office of a Tulsa dentist.

"Hepatitis B is the one I would be concerned about, definitely make sure they get tested for," Bell said.

Bell said the hepatitis B virus can live outside the body, on an inanimate object, for as long as seven hours, making it easier to transmit and infect someone else.

The hepatitis C virus doesn't transmit near as easily. The same goes for HIV. Bell said there is less than a 1 percent chance of becoming infected through a needle stick, and that virus can only live for a few minutes outside the body.

3/29/2013 Related Story: Dentist Offices Not Routinely Inspected, Oklahoma Official Says

She said, even if someone becomes infected, there is medication that can help manage the disease. But, because hepatitis infects the liver, there are other concerns.

"So if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and don't know it, and consume a lot of alcohol or contract any other type of a problem, that would damage the liver. You're stacking the deck against you, so to speak, and just causing more and more chronic problems," Bell said.

Bell said it's very rare for diseases like this to be transmitted, but adds that the health department is taking the right action, by testing everyone who may have come in contact with the diseases.

"While your urgent cares or your primary care physicians can do the test, it's actually better to have it done at the health department, so they can keep tabs on everyone," Bell said.

Bell said her biggest concern for the public is if the patients panic and try to diagnose themselves through the Internet. She encourages anyone who is worried they may be exposed to get tested at the health department.

Read The Oklahoma Board Of Dentistry's Complaint Against Dr. Harrington

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