Porn Star Transmits HIV On-Set, California Officials Say

UPDATE at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014: The industry responds, below.

One of the porn industry's longtime claims in its fight against mandatory condom use on-set is that HIV hasn't been transmitted during an adult video shoot in more than 10 years.

That claim might now be invalid as the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reported recently that it had "strong evidence" a male performer who recently contracted HIV infected another porn star on-set. The L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) says it believes it happened in Nevada.

Cal/OSHA this week used the situation to remind the mostly Valley-based industry that "employers are required to furnish and ensure the use of condoms in the production of adult films at no cost to the actors."

Despite the lack of a specific statewide law requiring condom use on-set, Cal/OSHA says that federal workplace safety law prohibiting workers' exposure to blood-borne pathogens means that prophylactics are mandatory in Golden State porn.

The AHF, which is working on a statewide mandatory condom initiative that it's hoping to get on the 2016 ballot, says told you so

AHF President Michael Weinstein told us this week's report refutes the industry's arguments:

It isn't the first and it won't be the last. It does negate the big lie that they have been telling that this has not been happening on-set, which I don't agree with.

In a subsequent statement, he added:

There is no proof that any of these HIV infections over the past decade have not occurred on set other that the porn industry’s word, with the general public and health officials relying on the industry’s own self-reporting.

He said that he was told genotype testing was used by health officials to help connect the first patient to the man who was infected on-set.

In a statement, AHF said Cal/OSHA's report is related to the HIV scare that prompted the porn industry to call for a voluntary halt to production in October while performers were tested and any possible outbreak was thwarted:

The case involves a male performer working with another male performer; the individual initially tested HIV-negative in California after the out-of-state exposure, but two weeks later tested HIV-positive.

We reached out to the adult industry's Canoga Park-based trade group, the Free Speech Coalition, to see if it had a response to Cal/OSHA's report. We had yet to hear back. The coalition has previously stated that "there has not been a transmission of HIV on a regulated adult film set in over a decade."

Porn Star Transmits HIV On-Set, California Officials Say
File photo of an adult industry expo by Ed Carrasco for L.A. Weekly

The adult biz has argued that its voluntary, twice-a-month testing protocol for performers works and that consumers don't want to see condom porn. Requiring prophylactics would push production underground and out-of-state, where performers would be even less safe, the industry's boosters have said.

Cal/OSHA appears to have refuted the idea that testing works, however, in noting that the patient zero here had been tested yet allegedly infected a fellow performer within his presumed window of negativity:

... Very early in an HIV infection the test can be negative even though the actor really does have HIV. In this case, the actor and production company thought he was HIV-negative during filming. Shortly after his negative test, HIV levels in his body rose rapidly to where he could infect other actors through unprotected sex.

The state's announcement was low on details—exactly where and when this happened wasn't made entirely clear—but here's much of what it does say:

A male adult entertainment actor obtained a test for HIV that was negative. Over the following two-week period, the actor had unprotected sex with several other male actors during two separate film shoots. During the second film shoot, he had symptoms of a viral infection. The actor went to a clinic and had another blood test that showed he had recently become infected with HIV. The local public health department initiated follow-up with the sexual contacts of this actor. Thus far, one of the male actors from the second film shoot has tested newly positive for HIV. Public health investigation and laboratory results provide very strong evidence that the actor transmitted HIV to the other actor as a result of unprotected sex during the film shoot.

Weinstein says the adult business is "having a bad month."

In mid-December a federal judge ruled against the industry in its suit against L.A. County's mandatory condom law, passed by voters in 2012.

AHF's leader says it's high time authorities start holding the industry to the law of the land.

"From this day forward it's not what the law is," he said, "but how it's going to be enforced."

UPDATE at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014: The Free Speech Coalition today responded to the state's report, saying that the shoot in question was "non-compliant" with the industry's voluntary testing protocols and that such a situation is "one of the chief dangers of pushing the adult industry out of state, and outside the established testing protocol."

This is an interesting take, as the industry has been threatening at every turn in the battle over condoms to leave the state. Some might even say some of the adult biz's leaders have been cheerleading for a move to Nevada.

In any case, here's the FSC's statement:

Yesterday, the California Department of Public Health released information about an incident this past September concerning a performer with HIV working on a non-compliant adult film set in Nevada. This is, however, not a ‘current threat’ as stated in the press release.

At the time of the incident, the Free Speech Coalition immediately cooperated with the Department of Public Health, and called a moratorium to determine if there was any risk of transmission to performers on PASS compliant adult sets. Non-complaint shoots are one of the chief dangers of pushing the adult industry out of state, and outside the established testing protocol.

The shoots in question did not adhere to the PASS testing protocols and were shot outside of the PASS testing database used by adult performers. Not only did this leave those who participated at risk, it made it much harder to track scene partners once the possible infection was discovered.

While the set did use a degree of HIV testing, it fell below the standard set by PASS protocols, including the use of an ELISA HIV tests, rather than the highly sensitive RNA tests required by the industry. The ELISA tests have large window periods that delay how early an infection can be detected, and have not been accepted within the adult industry for over a decade.

Neither did the shoot utilize the PASS database. However, once alerted by the DPH to the incident, the Free Speech Coalition worked swiftly to shut down production within the larger industry and help track any possible exposures in or out of the PASS database. While performers in the PASS database were not affected, participants on the non-compliant shoot may have been exposed.

The adult film industry has been working with government agencies including Cal/OSHA to bring remaining producers shooting outside of the PASS protocols into compliance. The PASS system utilized by the industry is a proven testing protocol that has been effective in preventing any on-set transmission of HIV for more than ten years.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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