More than 1,200 Seattle-area students potentially exposed to unsterilized dental equipment

SEATTLE -- A deficiency in dental sterilization procedures at school-based health clinics in the Seattle area has led to more than 1,200 students being potentially exposed to unsterilized equipment.

According to Neighborcare Health, the sterilization deficiency was discovered March 4.

What happened?

The staff reported that some dental handpieces in Neighborcare's portable school-based dental program were disinfected but not fully heat sterilized as required by Neighborcare Health’s policy. A handpiece is a tool that holds dental instruments, such as a bur or a polishing cup, and is used during cleaning and filling procedures.

This handpiece sterilization issue only occurred at Neighborcare Health’s school-based dental clinics. The incident did not impact patients seen in Neighborcare Health’s other dental clinics, or patients seen for medical-only care in the school-based clinics.

Neighborcare is unable to determine specific dates or appointments that might have been affected, which is why the clinic sent letters to 1,250 patients seen at the school-based clinics before March 4.

The timeframe for when Vashon Island school-based dental patients were potentially impacted was between September 2017 and March 2018.

What is the risk?

During the above timeframe, the handpieces were cleaned with the germicidal disinfectant, CaviCide, which kills pathogens associated with hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV, but some handpieces did not undergo required autoclave/heat sterilization. All other instruments used during dental procedures were properly sterilized.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Neighborcare that there has never been a documented disease transmission from a dental handpiece.

"Based on all of these factors and how handpieces are used, we believe the risk for infection is very low," Neighborcare said.

How is Neighborcare Health responding?

Neighborcare says they sent notification letters to patients who may have been affected by this incident to notify them of possible exposure, and to provide details on how they can get testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. This screening is provided at no cost to patients at the Immediate Clinic urgent care centers, which is a third party that Neighborcare Health has contracted with to provide the testing.

"We are also prepared to assist with any follow-up care for patients as needed," Neighborcare said. "We are sincerely sorry for any distress this incident may have caused our patients, their families, and our partners. As a community health center deeply committed to the health of our patients and the communities we have served for over 50 years, 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."

Schools where Neighborcare Health provided school-based dental services and patients were potentially impacted

Denny International
Chief Sealth International
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