Patients at a now-closed Marana dental clinic could have been exposed to hepatitis or HIV, county health officials said Wednesday.
The Pima County Health Department says it is in the process of contacting 174 dental patients who were seen at the T Dental Clinic, 3662 W. Ina Road in Marana, from January to July of 2010 because they may have been exposed to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis and other blood-borne pathogens.
The potential exposure is due to dental equipment that was not properly installed, health officials believe. The piece of equipment was an air compressor in a dental operative unit that dentists use in the mouth as a vacuum and also to provide water. Since it was improperly installed, the compressor could have caused cross-contamination of medical waste to patients, officials said.
No cases of transmission have been identified, but former patients are strongly urged to test for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
The T Dental Clinic is no longer in practice. It closed in July 2010, county officials say.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been notified, said Dr. Francisco Garcia, director of the Pima County Health Department. He said health officials became aware of a possible contamination at the end of March after someone provided the Arizona Department of Health Services with the information. The state is assisting the county in an investigation.
Garcia stressed that the risk anyone was exposed to a pathogen is very low, "but it doesn't mean there is no risk of infection." He said to the best of his knowledge there is no record that the dentist who ran the clinic, Dr. Victor Trujillo, contacted county health officials three years ago.
Garcia also said the incident should not deter people from going to the dentist.
"These are very rare, unusual circumstances," he said. "You are more likely to get hit by a car on your way to the dentist."
County health officials say HIV and hepatitis B have been known to be transmitted in the dental setting in "rare instances," if proper infection control practices aren't followed. There has been no documented case of hepatitis C transmission in a dental setting.
Trujillo, the clinic dentist, could not be reached for comment. But his lawyer says the fault lies with a contractor, Bert's Electric and Plumbing in Tucson, which did not properly install the equipment. Bert's denies that accusation and says Trujillo invented the contamination story to avoid paying a bill. Litigation between Bert's and Trujillo is pending.
But Trujillo's attorney, Lee Horner, insists the problem was with the contractor, who did not work to code.
Horner said Trujillo tried to tell health officials about the possible contamination three years ago and made a renewed effort this year when he found out a dentist in Phoenix had purchased his dental equipment at an auction. The Arizona Department of Health Services has the device now.
Former T Dental Clinic employee Todd F. Meedel also said that Trujillo had attempted to get the issue taken care of three years ago. Meedel said he gave a court deposition about the matter after Bert's sued Trujillo and Trujillo responded with a countersuit.
Meedel, who was the information technology specialist at T Dental, was also a patient during the time in question but has tested negative for any blood-borne diseases.
Vernon E. Peltz, the lawyer for Bert's Electric and Plumbing, says he doubts anyone was contaminated. He said Trujillo made up the contamination claims when he couldn't pay a contracting bill to Bert's and Bert's sued him to get paid an initial $9,050 plus interest. Court records show Trujillo countersued.
"All of this was made up after we filed a suit," Peltz said. "I don't believe there is any merit to Dr. Trujillo's claim that there has been contamination in that dental office."
Peltz added that to the extent that there is any contamination, it's Trujillo's fault.
"(Bert's) is just the plumber," he said.
For more Information
People who were patients at the T Dental Clinic in Marana between January 2010 and July 2010 who have questions, or may need a referral on where to get tested for blood-borne diseases, are advised to speak with Pima County Health Department staff by calling 243-7808 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134. On Twitter: @stephanieinnes