- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A Tulsa-area man whose hepatitis C diagnosis led Oklahoma to close two dental clinics and suggest AIDS testing for 7,000 patients last year says his illness has left him depressed, embarrassed and worried about his future.

The patient - identified as “G. Rains” in court records - has sued Dr. W. Scott Harrington, claiming the dentist deliberately used rusty instruments and re-used contaminated drug vials that led to Rains’ infection. According to health officials and court records, Rains is the first confirmed patient in the U.S. to contract hepatitis C from another patient in a dental office. Health officials shut down Harrington’s practices last year, and the investigation into the clinics continues.

Rains declined an in-person interview with The Associated Press but agreed to answer questions submitted through his lawyer, Mark Lyons.

“My biggest fear right now is that the virus will return and cause some major health issues and ruin my liver, along with going through treatment again, which was very difficult and taxing,” Rains wrote.

In his lawsuit, Rains said he learned he had been exposed to hepatitis C after donating blood in August 2012. Because his blood had been fine during a donation several months earlier, he calculated that he must have been exposed to the virus at one of Harrington’s clinics, where he had been given drugs intravenously while having a tooth removed in July 2012.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus is commonly spread through the sharing of needles in intravenous drug use, and symptoms can occur two weeks after exposure, according to the agency.

Rains, who describes himself as an “advance-degree professional” within 10 years of retirement, said that Harrington’s clinic spread the disease to him through poor hygiene. State inspectors said they found that Harrington’s office did not properly sterilize equipment and used rusty drills, which can allow blood to collect on porous surfaces.

He said the illness or his treatments have caused anemia, nausea and damage to his retinas and thyroid. He said he cannot be outside in sunlight.

“All of these issues contributed to my not being able to enjoy my usual lifestyle, even simple things like walking the dog, climbing stairs, mowing the yard, etc.,” he wrote. “While I continued to work at my job, I occasionally left work early to come home and take naps due to fatigue. An additional side effect was depression, which I had never experienced before.”

The CDC estimates that up to 85 percent of people with hepatitis C develop chronic infection, including cirrhosis or liver cancer.

At the height of the health scare involving Harrington’s clinics, officials urged tests for about 7,000 of the oral surgeon’s former patients. Of 4,202 tested at state clinics, 89 had hepatitis C, five had hepatitis B and four had the virus that causes AIDS.

Harrington has a hearing before the state’s Board of Dentistry tentatively scheduled for the summer, when he could face suspension, fines or have his license yanked. Stephen McCaleb, the judicial counsel for the dental board, declined to comment.

Investigators have said Harrington is cooperating and gave up his license voluntarily. His Tulsa attorney, James Secrest II, declined to comment on the Rains lawsuit, but he said Harrington is taking the investigation “very hard.”

“This guy spent over 30 years in a career, and he’s just watching it go away in a matter of hours,” Secrest said. “His career has been ruined in Tulsa.”

Rains is seeking at least $75,000 in actual damages and more than $1 million in punitive damages.

Arthur Best, professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, said the outcome of Rains’ case could affect nearly a dozen negligence lawsuits that have been slapped on the doctor in the past year.

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