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Report faults porn firms for not providing information to public health agencies

The report examining an HIV scare that temporarily halted production in the adult film industry cites the case of Derrick Burts, an HIV-infected actor who had sex with several others before his diagnosis.

April 20, 2011|By Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times
  • Former porn actor Derrick Burts during a December news conference at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles.
Former porn actor Derrick Burts during a December news conference at the… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

A report examining an HIV scare that temporarily shut production in the adult film industry faulted production companies for not providing information to public health authorities.

"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, found two male porn actors were HIV-positive when they had sex with Derrick Burts, an adult film performer whose HIV diagnosis in October caused filming to be suspended.

His finding illustrates the inability of public health officials to conduct an extensive, thorough investigation quickly.

The slow progress of this probe is in stark contrast to the way health officials normally handle disease outbreaks. Usually, health officials are able to quickly identify anyone potentially exposed to illness. They quickly attempt to determine the origin of the disease and try to prevent it from spreading.

Two factors make the investigation difficult: the refusal of adult film companies to cooperate and the frequent use of pseudonyms by performers, which can make it difficult to know the real name 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 investigation, 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 used condoms during scenes involving anal sex with male partners, the usual practice among adult film performers, but not during vaginal or oral scenes, which is also standard industry practice.

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 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 between mid-August and mid-September.

Meza urged in his report that production companies give health officials the names of those actors and noted that federal law requires those firms to keep their real names to prove they are not minors. He also urged the use of condoms during filming of any sex act.

The manner of the report's release also seemed to indicate the sensitive nature of the issue. The report was to have been presented at a CDC conference in Atlanta on Friday, but it was canceled at the last moment.

Meza declined to comment, saying he was asked to refer calls to the county.

The presentation was canceled because the County Counsel was concerned about protecting patient privacy, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health, said Tuesday.

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.

ron.lin@latimes.com

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