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Investigation of HIV in porn industry hurt by 'limited cooperation' from filmmakers, report says

April 16, 2011 |  8:06 am

Zeta

Health officials say two male porn actors were HIV-positive when they had sex with Derrick Burts, an adult film performer whose HIV diagnosis in October caused several large production companies to suspend filming.

The report indicated that adult film companies were stymieing the public health investigation into the HIV infection. “Limited cooperation from many adult film industry companies restricted this contact investigation. Rarely did industry legal counsel give information for investigation,” the report said.

The report, written by Dr. Francisco Meza, a physician with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service on loan to the California Department of Public Health, illustrated how public health officials have been unable to conduct an extensive, thorough investigation quickly.

The slow progress of the probe is a stark contrast to how health officials normally handle disease outbreaks. Usually health officials are able to swiftly identify anyone who was potentially exposed to an  illness. They quickly attempt to determine the origin of the disease and take measures to prevent the disease from spreading.

Making the investigation difficult is the refusal of adult film companies to cooperate and the prolific use of pseudonyms by performers, which can make it difficult to know the real names of sex partners. Burts told authorities that he had sex with six men and 10 women in the two months before his HIV diagnosis, but officials have been able to contact only five of them, and none wanted to cooperate with the investgiation, the report said.

Of his 16 sexual partners, 15 were on the set, and involved 12 filming locations and 10 production companies, the report said. Burts said he used condoms during scenes involving anal sex, but did not use them during vaginal or oral scenes.

The report said Burts began working in the adult film industry on Aug. 5 and had sex with four women and one man during that month; Burts said he was unaware that the male actor he worked with had been infected with HIV and was not being treated.

Burts then had sex with four men and two women in September; one of those men was also found to be HIV positive. Burts tested negative for HIV on Sept. 3 but tested positive on Oct. 6. Because it can take a couple of weeks for HIV infection to show up in a test, health officials concluded that he probably was infected some time between mid-August and mid-September.

Meza urged in his report that production companies provide health officials the names of these actors, and noted that federal law requires firms to keep records of actors' real names to prove they are of legal age. He also urged the use of condoms during all sex acts.

The manner of the report’s release also seemed to indicate the sensitive nature of the issue. The report was scheduled to be presented at a CDC conference in Atlanta on Friday, but the presentation was abruptly canceled at the last moment. No explanation was given, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the lead agency in this probe, declined to answer questions, saying it does not comment on specific HIV cases or pending investigations.

Although the report was not presented Friday, The Times was able to review a copy of the report.
Meza did not return a call requesting comment.

The cancelation of the presentation was highly unusual because the same report was given at a regional CDC conference in March at San Diego State University.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the county should subpoena the companies that are not providing public health officials with information.

“They should not be in a position where they can debate giving this information” to the authorities, Weinstein said.

RELATED:

HIV-positive porn actor was told: 'You're not going to make any money if you wear a condom'

Porn performer who tested positives speaks for the first time

Porn actor with HIV didn't infect any other adult performer, clinic says

Porn industry clinic comes under fire for its handling of HIV case

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: Derrick Burts, 24, said he tested HIV-positive in October at the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in Sherman Oaks after working in both gay and straight porn films for a few months. He had previously been identified only as Patient Zeta. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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