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Apr 9, 2013 5:43 PM by Eric Ross

Blood tests urged for young Ark. dental patients

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas health officials on Tuesday recommended blood tests for about 100 young patients of a dentist who sedated them with drugs possibly contaminated with infectious material.

Screenings for dozens of patients of the now deceased Dr. William Jarrod Stewart will include tests for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and syphilis, state epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow said.

"We have no reason to believe that anyone is at risk of a particular illness," Haselow said. "We are just notifying people because this situation is highly unusual and we don't know what we don't know."

Stewart died Feb. 29, 2012, Haselow said. Haselow would not say how Stewart died except to say "he did not die of an infectious cause."

After Stewart's death, federal officials got involved to take the controlled substances under his license and determined that vials of medicine used in IV sedations appeared to have been tampered with, Haselow said.

"We don't know how or who potentially tampered with the vials," he said.

But Haselow said there's no reason to believe the drugs in question "were contaminated at the level of manufacture."

The transmission of infectious diseases in dental offices is extremely rare, with only three known cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The recommendation for testing was made as a precaution, not because of any known spread of a disease.

The state Department of Health is reaching out to 86 patients who were treated by Stewart at several clinics between Nov. 20, 2011, and Feb. 20, 2012, though Haselow said the number of patients could change.

The clinics are the Ocean Dental clinics in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Little Rock; and Bevans Pediatric Dentistry in Little Rock. However, the Health Department said no patients treated at the Fort Smith clinic had been identified as being at risk.

Brent Gooden, a spokesman for Stillwater, Okla.-based Ocean Dental, said company officials have been cooperating with the Arkansas Department of Health since they were contacted last week.

Health officials also said patients of other clinic doctors, or patients who did not receive intravenous sedation, are not believed to be at risk.

The call for testing in Arkansas comes after Oklahoma health officials have urged 7,000 patients of a Tulsa oral surgeon to have their blood analyzed for signs of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Officials said unsanitary conditions behind Dr. W. Scott Harrington's practice posed a threat to his clients.

Haselow said the incident in Arkansas was different than what the one in Oklahoma.

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