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Students potentially exposed to hepatitis B, C, HIV at 12 school dental clinics

By Deborah Horne, KIRO 7 News

Some 1,250 children in Seattle and Vashon Island may have been contaminated with potentially lethal viruses because the dental equipment used on them was not properly sterilized.

Those viruses include HIV, which can cause AIDS.

“I’m really worried about it, honestly,” said parent Jennifer Trice, “because that’s a huge thing to happen.”

Trice stood outside Bailey Gatzert Elementary School in Seattle. Three of her five children are students there. She said she has been upset since she learned that the in-school dental clinic run by Neighborcare Health used equipment that was not properly sterilized.

“Yes, and they could have been exposed to HIV and different hepatitis,” said Trice. “That’s very worrisome, you know. Small children. You just think that they’re getting a routine checkup and something life-changing could happen to them.”

No one at Neighborcare Health would talk on camera.

​​In a statement, the agency described the tools as dental handpieces used to clean or put fillings in teeth. Neighborcare says the handpieces in question were disinfected with CaviCide, which is supposed to kill viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. But the equipment did not undergo the more extensive autoclave/heat sterilization, which is required.

That mistake exposed nearly 1,300 students at 10 Seattle schools, including Bailey Gatzert and Beacon Hill International and two schools on Vashon Island, to the potentially deadly viruses. 

Several parents of children served by the Neighborcare clinic said they had not heard about the mistake until a news crew told them about it.

Neighborcare said it is offering free testing to the affected children. 

“Well, I’m going to definitely get that done,” said parent Keiandra Hardeman, “because that’s something I want for my child.”

Health officials said the risk of anyone actually getting sick because of this mistake is very low.

A local dentist KIRO7 spoke to agreed. But he also said sterilizing these instruments is standard operating procedure in dental offices. So it is hard to believe that a mistake of this kind would be made.

Seattle Public Schools provided KIRO 7 with this statement: 

“Seattle Public Schools takes great care to ensure the safety of our students. The City of Seattle supports dental and health care onsite at many of our schools. Public Health King County selects and manages dental care providers through a rigorous process. While we are deeply concerned, we appreciate that Neighborcare Health has been proactive in informing families and schools about the protocol deficiencies identified in its school-based dental programs. While incidents described by Neighborcare Health pose a low risk, we encourage families to contact Neighborcare for support and free health screenings. Any additional questions should be directed to Neighborcare Health.”

Schools where Neighborhood Health provided dental services and students are potentially impacted: 

Seattle: 

  • 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
  • Bailey Gazert Elementary

Vashon Island:

  • Chautauqua Elementary
  • McMurray Middle School

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