HITCHCOCK

It’s been an anxious two weeks for Frailan Filoteo.

In late March, he received a letter from the Galveston County Health District, warning that he may have been exposed to infectious diseases, including hepatitis C and HIV, while receiving dental treatment at the Coastal Health & Wellness clinic in Texas City.

Filoteo, 55, who lives with his mother in Freddiesville, had teeth pulled at the clinic in 2016 and 2017, when a breakdown in sanitation protocols might have left infectious diseases on dental instruments between procedures, county health officials have said.

Filoteo received the letter March 23 and went to the health district on March 26, when health officials drew three vials of blood from his left arm.

Since then, Filoteo has been waiting. Although health officials said testing results should have been available in five to seven days, he still hasn’t learned whether his blood tests were positive. After a week passed, Filoteo said he started calling the health district to see whether someone could give him results. He found himself either passed on to people who couldn’t help or voicemail, and ultimately gave up, he said. His 75-year-old mother, Veralina, has since taken up the task of calling for information, but hasn’t had luck either, he said.

The uncertainty is beginning to weigh on him, he said.

“I thought I had caught HIV,” Filoteo said. “I was scared, stunned.”

Health district officials said they can’t comment on confidential patient information, but on Tuesday told The Daily News they would check on the status of Filoteo’s test.

While waiting at the clinic to get tested, Filoteo said he talked with another woman there for the same reason. The woman started to cry from worry, he said.

Filoteo said he has been treated at the Coastal Health & Wellness clinic for years, and credited the physicians there with helping to keep him healthy during a time when he was homeless and at The Salvation Army in Galveston. It was a godsend, he said.

He was disappointed that he might have been exposed to infectious diseases at a place he relied on and trusted, he said.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “We come over here, we’re indigent, we have no money. You all are supposed to take care of us, and then we find out we might have HIV or hepatitis C. What the hell is going on?”

Filoteo is far from the only person waiting for tests to come back.

As of Monday, the Galveston County Health District had tested 2,437 people. Of those, 1,880 have had their tests returned.

A spokeswoman said the district was “not at liberty” to reveal how many patients have been confirmed to be infected with hepatitis or HIV. The district has not definitively tied any infections to the clinic, though officials said doing that could take months of investigations.

“Anyone who tests positive will be contacted personally by health district officials,” Ashley Tompkins said. “The health district’s investigation is ongoing, thorough and will take some time. We must do a full investigation to see if there is any link between a positive diagnosis and Coastal Health & Wellness clinics.”

Health officials are most worried about hepatitis C infections, after investigators identified six people who were diagnosed with the disease at times after being treated at the clinic. Some of the similarities between those patients, including when they were treated and which dentists treated them, prompted the district to send out public warnings March 23.

It appears unlikely that all 9,500 people identified as at risk for infection will be tested. The district plans to scale down testing on Saturday, Tompkins said. People who come in after that day to be tested because of the clinic’s breaches in infection control won’t be turned away, Tompkins said.

Despite the anxiety caused by the wait, Filoteo said he hoped the clinics would stay open, and continue to serve people that need help.

“Don’t be scared of this place that helps,” he said. “Don’t stop going just because of this.”

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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