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5 patients of dentist have HIV

Two more patients apparently were infected with the AIDS virus by a Stuart dentist who died of the disease last year, state health officials said Thursday. The discovery brings to five the number of Dr. David Acer's patients who have tested positive for the same HIV strain as the dentist. Acer died of AIDS complications in September.

The two unidentified patients became infected with HIV while receiving dental care, said a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), which was notified of the test results by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.

"The CDC indicated the two new patients had invasive procedures performed by Dr. Acer, and are infected with HIV strains which are similar to the strains from the three previously reported patients and from the dentist," an HRS release said.

None of the infected patients said they were in a high-risk group for AIDS.

"What this basically means is that we're still going to continue our investigation into Dr. Acer's practice to determine just how that transmission occurred," HRS spokesman David Adams said. "It's something, of course, that's greatly concerning us and we're going to keep going with our efforts to really pin this down."

He said hundreds of the doctor's patients have been tested, but not all the results are in yet.

The Acer case became public when he wrote to his clients before his death, warning them he had the disease and advising them to be tested. The CDC later determined the dentist treated 1,700 patients after contracting AIDS in 1986.

The case achieved widespread national attention when the first of his infected patients, 23-year-old Kimberley Bergalis, of Fort Pierce, went public with her claim that Acer infected her.

"It's just a shame that she was met with such skepticism at the beginning, that these tragic things have to come out to show that she was correct in her original allegation," Bergalis' attorney, Robert Montgomery, said Thursday. "Without this lawsuit, no one would ever have known."

The Bergalis case led the American Medical Association and American Dental Association to recommend AIDS-infected doctors and dentists tell their patients about their conditions.

Bergalis won an out-of-court legal settlement in March from Cigna Dental Health of Florida Inc., which recommended the dentist.

Montgomery said an agreement was reached with the health insurer but he refused to disclose the amount.

Gravely ill with AIDS, Bergalis already had received $1-million from Acer's insurance company, CNA Insurance Co.

Montgomery also is representing Richard Lee Driskin, a 29-year-old citrus employee from Indiantown, and 65-year-old Barbara Webb, the 1986-87 Martin County teacher of the year. He says their lawsuits likely will go to trial before the end of the year.