CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Nearly 2,000 people in five states and Washington were urged to get hepatitis B tests after patients and volunteers at a free dental clinic in West Virginia contracted the blood-borne disease, public health officials said Friday.
Officials say the risk of widespread illness is low, but they are concerned that low-income people who can't afford medical care may not know they are sick and could pass the disease to others.
"The problem comes if there has been unrecognized transmission and someone is chronically infected," said Danae Bixler of the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health. "They need to know that."
Letters recommending testing will be sent to 1,137 patients who received care at the Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic in Berkeley County in June 2009, according to the agency. In addition, 826 volunteers will get similar letters. Most are West Virginians, but people from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, Virginia, and North Carolina also are being told to get tested. The two-day Eastern Panhandle event attracted participants from all those areas.