A chiropractor who owns the clinic in North Charleston that state officials believe could be connected to three hepatitis B cases said the center is looking at the device used to sterilize medical equipment.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control issued a public health order against the Tri-County Spinal Care Center this week because three patients have been diagnosed with acute hepatitis B. All three received injections at the center on the same days in February.

Chiropractor Cameron Wills, who owns the center, said in a prepared statement there is no record that the clinic’s device used to sterilize medical equipment — an autoclave — ever malfunctioned.

“To provide assurance to the public, we are going through the process of triple-checking the autoclave. Because we use prepackaged, sterile supplies, the autoclave is used for a very limited number of procedures. We still are awaiting a finding from DHEC regarding the source of the patients’ hepatitis B contamination,” said Wills, who hired Charleston PR & Design, a public relations firm, to handle press inquiries.

A massage therapist who formerly worked at the center said the clinic’s autoclave malfunctioned last year.

Dana Ball, who worked as an independent contractor at the center on Dorchester Road from July to November last year, said she once reported to a supervisor that the autoclave’s door was not properly sealed during sterilization. An autoclave uses a combination of high pressure and steam to sterilize equipment, including some needles.

“I alerted my supervisor. It was out of my scope of practice,” said Ball, who now owns a massage therapy practice.

DHEC says 23 other patients are potentially at risk of contracting hepatitis B because they received similar injections at the center in February.

Until the cause of the infections is uncovered, the health department has ordered the Tri-County Spinal Care Center to stop performing all invasive procedures at the clinic on Dorchester Road. Two other locations in Summerville and West Ashley are not affected by the order.

“This is very shocking to us,” Wills said in the statement. “We are working feverishly with DHEC to scrutinize every element of our procedures.”

Hepatitis B is a liver disease that is often contracted through unprotected sex or illegal intravenous drug use. Symptoms include dark urine, jaundice, nausea, vomiting and joint pain. It can develop into a lifelong, chronic condition.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.