Still no clarity behind dental HIV scare

It has been rollercoaster of a week for parents and caregivers whose children have been affected by the health scare surrounding the faulty equipment at the Pukekohe Intermediate Dental Clinic.

According to a statement released last week, specialist public health nurses from Counties Manukau Health (CMH) have been contacting all parents and caregivers of children who attended the Pukekohe Intermediate Dental Clinic from 13 September 2016, until it closed on 23 January 2017, to schedule appropriate screening.

This follows the discovery that on January 23, staff started to notice the equipment wasn’t functioning properly. The Counties Manukau Health engineering team diagnosed the faulty connection shortly thereafter.

In their statement released, CMH stated that the faulty equipment meant ‘that there is a very small chance that children who had particular procedure may have been exposed to unsterilised water, possibly containing blood or saliva from other children.’

However, according to a source who spoke confidentially to the Post Newspaper, and cannot be named incase of repercussions, the blood and saliva contamination is not the main concern.

“What they are not saying, is that the air compressor tool has been crossed with a grey waste line. They (Counties Manukau Health) have known that there has been a problem for the last few weeks, but rather than being upfront and honest about it, they all just keep going around in circles, pointing the finger at each other.”

Our source says that the way the issue has been handled is not acceptable.

“They really have no clue how or when it has happened. Where the contamination has occurred has been in secure rooms that engineers have access to. As soon as they found out there was a problem, they should have contacted parents straight away, rather than leaving it to the last minute and for them to find out through social media.”

Pukekohe Intermediate Dental Clinic is operated by the Auckland Regional Dental Service (ARDS), and it has been stated that ARDS and CMH engineers are investigating how the problem could have occurred, including involving a specialist maintenance company and the United States manufacturers of the equipment.

Children who have had a procedure involving compressed air, a drill, extraction or suction, will be offered testing for blood-borne viral infections, in particular Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

However, infectious disease specialists have indicated that the risk of cross-infection is very low as it is extremely rare for New Zealand children to have any of these conditions.

“It is critical for parents to understand the risk is very low. If we do find cases of pre-existing infection, then we will prioritise screening for those children who were treated on the same day,” says Dr Johnson, Chief Medical Officer for Counties Manukau Health.

“Despite this very low risk, we will be contacting parents and caregivers of all the children affected to offer them an appointment at the Specialist Clinics we have established to ensure they receive an assessment of risk, blood tests and immunisations if required, and to get all other relevant information.”

For parent, Pauline Bent-Wild, whose son attends the school, says she is disappointed with the way the whole situation has been handled.

“We are parents who just want questions answered, but we are still not getting any response. Some children have to go for two blood tests as some of the symptoms of these infections can lay dormant for three months. And that just sucks.”

However, Pauline said that blaming the staff was ‘not on.’

“We are all angry and frustrated, but there is no point in blaming or threatening the staff at Pukekohe Intermediate. That behavior is uncalled for. I guess we will all just have to wait and see until we get our test results back over the next few days.”

As a result of this incident, all Auckland Regional Dental Service dental clinics in the Auckland Region have been reviewed and the issue is only with the Pukekohe Intermediate Dental Clinic which treats children from Pukekohe and surrounding areas. Dr Johnson says that incidents of this nature are extremely rare and parents should not let this affect their children’s attendance at school dental clinics.

“The problem occurred due to equipment assembly and is not related to the clinical practice of the dental staff at the clinic, or the high quality care given to children across Auckland.”

The investigation will determine what longer term mitigations need to be put in place to ensure this type of fault doesn’t occur in future.

ARDS and CMH understand that this incident will be distressing for the families involved and encourages them to contact Healthline on 0800 611 116 or talk to their GP if they require further information or support.


Health risks:  According to the Counties Manukau Health , there is a very small risk of exposure to a blood borne infection as a result of this equipment malfunction. The likely risk of children being exposed to a blood borne virus is very low. Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus, and HIV infection are all extremely rare in New Zealand children. Most children with up-to-date immunisations are also fully protected against Hepatitis B. If at any stage we do find cases of pre-existing infection, then we will prioritise screening for those children who were treated on the same day. Children who have not been fully immunised for Hepatitis B should have catch-up Hepatitis B vaccinations. Blood tests will also be offered to screen for Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus, and HIV infection. What test would my child need to have? We are offering a blood test for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV infection. This test can be done at the clinics that have been established or a community laboratory upon referral by your GP. Because infection with blood borne viruses may take a number of weeks to develop, a second blood test may be needed up to three months from the time of the exposure. Where are the Specialist Clinics based? Two clinics will be established from 9am on 1 February. One will be based at the Pukekohe Intermediate Dental Clinic at 2a Edinburg Street Pukekohe and the other at Pukekohe Hospital. These clinics will initially operate from 8am until 8pm 7 days per week and be staffed by Public Health Nurses.