More than 560 patients at a dental clinic in Hertfordshire (UK) have received a letter asking them to be tested for HIV because a hygienist did not sterilize properly an ultrasonic scaler. Dentality Hoddesdon informs patients that they are at risk of contracting infections such as HIV and hepatitis due to a lack of hygiene.

An ultrasonic scaler works by using high-frequency vibrations to remove plaque from teeth. The staff sounded the alarm after realizing that the tool was not being sterilized as often as it should.

The error was discovered in January, but health officials have taken three months to act once they were informed of the error. The self-employed London hygienist no longer practices, but can continue her work under supervision.

A patient at the clinic told The Sun: “You get a letter telling you to get tested for HIV and it’s terrifying. They can say the risk is small, but they really don’t know it. The fact that it took them three months to warn everyone is unpleasant. How many more people could have been infected at that time?”

The Public Health Service in England has reported that there is a possibility that the 563 patients treated by it may have an infection, although the risk is very low. Dr Jorg Hoffmann, Deputy Director of Health Protection for Public Health in England, noted that “the risk of contracting Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV is extremely low and that testing is offered as a precautionary measure”.

“We know that patients will be anxious about this situation and will receive support from the NHS and PHE. Effective treatments are available for all blood-borne viruses, so it was important to identify anyone who might have been infected,” he said.

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