The last time we visited Washington state in these posts, there was a significant outbreak of measles in the county adjacent to the blue wonderland of Portland, Oregon.

Now, public health officials have warned that more than 1,000 students have a potential risk for HIV and hepatitis B and C after they received dental care at 12 schools in and around Seattle due to improperly sterilized dental tools.

The utensils, which were used to treat 1,250 kids at the schools’ dental clinics, weren’t properly sterilized, KING-TV reported.

The King County Department of Health said the risk was low, but recommended students who may have been exposed get tested, according to KING 5.

Neighborhood Care, which operates the clinics for low-income families, said in a statement in part, “We immediately re-trained all school-based dental staff in sterilization processes and policies. We will also reassure that all new and current dental assistants across the Neighborcare Health organization are following sterilization procedures.”

Contracting HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS) leads to a lifetime of antiviral drug treatments. Hepatitis B and C are liver diseases caused by viruses and can readily spread from exposure to contaminated blood or needles.

The notice covers specific schools in the Seattle area.

The affected schools in Seattle are Denny International Middle School, Chief Sealth International High School, Van Asselt Elementary, Mercer Middle School, Roxhill Elementary, West Seattle Elementary, Highland Park Elementary, Madison Middle School, Beacon Hill International and Bailey Gazert Elementary.

The two Vashon Island schools are Chautauqua Elementary and McMurray Middle School.

Neighborcare Health said that during the period in question, the handpieces were cleaned with a germicidal disinfectant that kills pathogens associated with hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV – but some handpieces did not undergo required heat sterilization. All other instruments used during dental procedures were properly sterilized.

Officials with 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.’

I would like to remind the health officials in Washington that the early stage symptoms of HIV, as well as Hepatitis B and C, may be mistaken for a severe cold or the flu. So, the statement that there are “no reports” of illness are meaningless until testing confirms none of the children have an infection.

In fact, public health officials have urged all patients who were exposed prior to March 4, the date the sterilization process was corrected, to get tested.

 
 
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