Patient Alpha Interview Highlights APHSS Seminar

LAS VEGAS—Industry supporters who attended the "Nuts and Bolts of APHSS" seminar Friday afternoon were surprised to find that Free Speech Coalition (FSC) executive director Diane Duke had scored a coup by arranging for the first public interview with "Patient Alpha," the adult performer who had knocked the industry on its head last fall when it was reported that he had tested positive for HIV while shooting in Florida.

The controversy surrounding the initial reports of the performer's infection gave the AIDS Healthcare Foundation the opportunity to accuse FSC of a cover-up, when in fact the organization had been working diligently behind the scenes to confirm or deny the initial infection reports—and thanks to hard work by Duke and others, it was soon revealed that Patient Alpha had been the victim of false positive test results, the reasons for which are still under investigation.

The interview was conducted by former FSC Board member Tom Hymes, with the patient's identity hidden behind a screened area in the seminar hall in order to protect his privacy. Nonetheless, he revealed that he was a 26-year-old male who, at the time of the incident, had been performing for about a year and had taken part in 10 to 15 sex scenes, all in Florida, and that he had taken part in a testing regimen where he was tested every 20 days for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

During the questioning, Patient Alpha stated that in October or November of last year, he was informed by the testing service he used, which was not one of the Adult Production Health and Safety Services (APHSS) approved providers, that he had tested HIV-positive, and that the lab was retesting the blood sample that he had provided—which they later said had also tested positive.

In the meantime, however, Patient Alpha had gone to the local branch of the health department for a series of HIV antibody tests, all of which had indicated that he was HIV-negative. However, although he had only informed his agent of the original positive result, Patient Alpha soon found that the production manager for the company for which he'd just shot a scene had received a copy of Patient Alpha's (false) positive test results, and promptly had him blacklisted from all productions in the area. He also began receiving phone calls from California-based performers, some of whom accused him of trying to hide his infection while continuing to work.

Still worried, Patient Alpha went to yet another testing facility in the Miami area—one which had been recommended by a fellow performer—which also told him that his test results had been positive and that they would retest the sample.

"So pretty much, I came to grips with the fact during that week, that I was positive," he stated. "I started to actually deal with it. I already let my mother know and all my friends, the people close to me. ... I just wanted to get it over with and start leading my life again."

But when he called the second lab to get a copy of his positive test results, the lab technician dropped a bombshell on him.

"Well, I forgot to tell you, two or three days ago, we ran your tests again and they came up negative," Alpha reported the technician as saying.

Of course, as the news was spreading back in California, the industry went on high alert, and Free Speech Coalition asked for a week's moratorium on production while the situation was being investigated—but the charges and countercharges were flying fast, as AVN previously reported.

"I actually was referred to the Free Speech Coalition by the gentleman that was working at the company," Alpha stated. "One of the two guys that knew my information asked me to contact Free Speech Coalition, and basically, the reason I was asked to contact them was for legal information or something of that nature. ... After I called and spoke with the Free Speech Coalition, I found out they were willing to help me to take care of my situation, get me treatment and things of that nature."

Part of the problem, it turned out, was that Alpha's original test was a PCR-NAT test, where several blood samples are mixed, and if the result of testing that mixed batch is positive, then the individual samples are tested to see which one(s) caused the positive result. However, Alpha also took several PCR-RNA tests—the current industry standard test—and all came back consistently negative.

"I got in touch with Diane [Duke]," Alpha then reported, "who really, really helped me out a lot and had me speak to a numerous amount of doctors and sent me for testing; very nice, very kind, and I just went from there."

Since then, Alpha has tested negative "at least eight times," although he continues to be tested just to make sure.

Hymes elicited some other details about Alpha's situation, then opened the floor to questions—and in the audience, it turned out, was Aaron Sixto, a representative from Talent Testing Services (TTS), which was the "second lab" where Alpha had gone for confirmatory testing. Sixto brought out that Alpha had gone to TTS on a Saturday for his first test there, and after TTS had also gotten, first, a positive result, then a negative result on the same sample, called Alpha in the following Monday for another blood sample, which consistently tested negative.

All in all, the story provided a wealth of information regarding how the performer testing system has worked since the closing of the industry's primary testing facility, AIM Associates, and paved the way for what followed: a discussion of the Adult Production Health and Safety Services (APHSS) system, which Free Speech was instrumental in putting into place, and which is still undergoing its "shake-out cruise."

Present for the panel discussion were Erik Avaniss-Aghajani of Primex Clinical Laboratories and Kevin Gutknecht of Advanced Medical Laboratories, both of whom are approved APHSS testing providers, as well as attorneys Karen Tynan and Chris Kelly, all of whom commented on various aspects of the STI-testing issue.

This portion of the seminar began with Duke and Tynan describing the history of STI testing in the adult industry, noting that producers often made copies of performers' tests and kept them in their files, which Tynan said was both improper, and that possession of the test results could result in the companies receiving subpoenas from state agencies like Cal/OSHA that were looking for performer health and identification data.

Gutknecht and Avaniss-Aghajani gave the audience an overview of the testing services they provide, and Avaniss-Aghajani also explained the differences between the PCR-NAT, PCR-RNA and the various antibody tests, the most common of which is the Elisa. He noted that when AIM began, it chose the PCR-DNA test as the best one to detect the HIV virus, with a "window period" of just seven to ten days before the virus could be detected—as compared to the antibody tests, with their 45 days or longer window—but that advances in testing science since then had established the PCR-RNA test as even more reliable—and it's also the only such test that currently has FDA approval, which the PCR-DNA did not.

Kelly then took the microphone to talk about the various state and federal laws that protect performers' medical privacy, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act (HIPAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as two state-level privacy laws in California. This led to a discussion of how the APHSS Availability Index works. Unlike AIM's database, no health information is contained in the APHSS index, but labs within the APHSS system that test performers have agreed to post on the index both the date of a performer's most recent test, and whether they are, medically, available or not available for work. Since there are numerous reasons why a performer might not be available for work—anything from taking a vacation to suffering from a broken leg to being on tour—the APHSS index both protects performers' health privacy and gives producers the information they need to decide whether to hire the performer for upcoming movies. In addition, performers can get copies of their own tests themselves, and continue to show those test results to performers with whom they're about to work, so each can be satisfied that his/her partner is healthy enough to have sex with.

After all of the information had been laid out, Duke then took the rostrum to urge the industry to support the APHSS system, and to discuss the various governmental and private entities such as Cal/OSHA and AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which have launched attacks on the system in order to force performers to use condoms during scenes.

Sadly, the forum included no performers who could relate, firsthand, their experiences with the APHSS system, which by almost all accounts functions much the same as AIM did, but certainly, audience members came away with a better understanding of how the adult industry protects its performers while still allowing producers to make a saleable product.

Pictured: Panelists standing in front of the curtain behind which Patient Alpha was interviewed. Photograph by JFK at FUBAR Webmasters