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Patients of Colo. dentist Dr. Stephen Stein urged to get tested for HIV, hepatitis amid reused needles probe

stephen stein, dentist, reusing needles
A photo from a biography on Dr. Stephen Stein's website.

(CBS News) The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is warning patients who went to a local oral surgeon over the past decade to get tested for HIV and hepatitis, after the doctor had been found to reuse needles for procedures on multiple patients.

CBS Denver reports that Dr. Stephen Stein may have reused needles on multiple patients between September 1999 and June 2011, potentially exposing patients to HIV, hepatitis B and/or C or other bloodborne diseases.

According to the Colorado health department, Dr. Stein re-used syringes and needles during oral and facial surgery procedures, and for intravenous (IV) medications, including for sedation.

"Needles and syringes were used repeatedly, often days at a time," the department said in a "Frequently Asked Questions" document posted on its website. "Because there can be a small amount of blood that remains in syringes and needles after an injection through an IV line, there is a risk of spread of bloodborne viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, between patients."

According to CBS Denver, Stein is a licensed dentist who practiced oral surgery at Stein Oral and Facial Surgery in Highlands Ranch, Colo. from September 1999 through June 2011 and at an office of the same name from August 2010 to June 2011 in Denver. Stein also saw patients at the office under the clinic name of New Image Dental Implant Center.

Oral surgeons are dentists who are trained to diagnose and treat injuries or diseases of the mouth, jaw, teeth, neck, gums and other soft tissues of the head, the health department said. They complete four years of dental school then another four years of residency at a surgical hospital.

The department began its investigation after a report of unsafe injection practices at Stein's offices. It said it found syringes and needles were saved and used to inject medications from one patient to another. While there is risk for disease transmission, no specific infections have yet been linked to the offices.

The health department is working to obtain all of Stein's patient dental records to notify patients directly that they should get tested. Those records may be incomplete, so the department urges anyone who remembers getting IV medication or sedation at one of Stein's offices to get tested as a precaution.

The department recommends anyone who was a patient of Stein's and received IV medicines to see their doctors to be tested for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. If patients do not know if they received IV medicines, the department recommends they also be tested.

Steins agreed to stop practicing on June 24, 2011 for what CBS Denver described as an undisclosed reason not related to reusing injections, citing the state's Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). He sold his practice in Highlands Ranch in September 2011 and the practice of reusing needles and syringes stopped.

CBS Denver reports that regulatory agency did not know about the needle reuse investigation until April. The Colorado health department informed the public of this risk on Tuesday, July 12.

Requests for comment to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies were not returned at press time.

The state is working with the Tri-County Health Department and Denver Public Health as the investigation continues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reported on life-threatening bacterial MRSA infections being spread from reused needles for pain injections that were given at clinics in Arizona and Delaware between March and April of this year. Ten people were infected from both outbreaks, and CDC investigators found single-dose or single-use vials meant for a one-time injection (and one patient) were reused for multiple patients. The report appears in the July 12 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report.

"These outbreaks are a reminder of the serious consequences that can result when [single-use vials] are used for more than one patient," the CDC said.

A hepatitis C outbreak tied to needle-reuse at the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire has infected at least 27 people. That outbreak is being investigated as a case of drug diversion, in which a hospital employee may have injected him or herself with pain medication, only to put the syringes back - possibly containing a different solution - for reuse on patients.

Here's CBS Denver with more on Dr. Stein:

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