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3 more dead from bacterial meningitis strain

Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Weinstein, executive director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the L.A. Department of Public Health was ‘insensitive’ in responding to a meningitis outbreak.

LOS ANGELES — The strain of bacterial meningitis that infected 22 gay men and killed seven in New York City starting in 2010, continues to be a small but lethal public health risk with eight more having contracted it this year in Los Angeles County. Three died and all were men who had sex with men, the Associated Press reports.

Last week, the county’s Department of Public Health urged gay men who have had HIV or multiple partners to get vaccinated against invasive meningococcal disease, the AP said.

However, the department said the three men who died didn’t have any direct contact with each other. The disease still is considered rare and sporadic and the department is shying away from declaring any outbreak in the gay community, the AP said citing authorities.

Four of the eight people who came down with the illness had sex with other men and three were HIV positive. The three who died in February and March were 27 or 28 years old and two were HIV positive, according to the department.

Of the other five people who fell ill, four are out of the hospital and one is hospitalized but recovering, the AP said.

The agency was “insensitive” for failing to announce the deaths earlier, Michael Weinstein, executive director for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told the Los Angeles Daily News.

About a third of the 32 bacterial meningitis cases reported in the county since October 2012 involved men who had sex with men, the Daily News reported.

That population is most at risk right now, said Dr. Robert Bolan, medical director for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

The county health department is “paying attention” and acting “in a timely manner” by urging vaccinations for members of the gay community, he told the newspaper.


Truvada’s use as HIV prevention drug raises concerns

Truvada, Gilead, gay news, Washington Blade

Drug resistance to established regimens can be a major concern. (Photo courtesy of Gilead)

NEW YORK — Debate persists in the gay community over the use of Truvada, a drug hailed as a lifesaver for many with HIV, about its use and effectiveness as a prevention technique for uninfected men who have gay sex without condoms, the AP and other news outlets report.

Many doctors and activists see immense promise for such preventive use of Truvada, and are campaigning hard to raise awareness of it as a crucial step toward reducing new HIV infections, which now total about 50,000 a year in the U.S., the AP reports.

Yet others — despite mounting evidence of Truvada’s effectiveness — say such efforts are reckless, tempting some condom users to abandon that layer of protection and exposing them to an array of other sexually transmitted infections aside from HIV.

“If something comes along that’s better than condoms, I’m all for it, but Truvada is not that,” Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, was quoted as having said by the AP. “Let’s be honest: It’s a party drug.”

Truvada, produced by California-based Gilead Sciences, has been around for a decade, serving as one of the key drugs used in combination with others as the basic treatment for people who have HIV. However, the drug took on a more contentious aspect in 2012 when the Food and Drug Administration approved it for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — in other words, for use to prevent people from getting sexually transmitted HIV in the first place, the AP said.

Since then, critics have warned that many gay men won’t heed Truvada’s once-a-day regimen and complained of its high cost — roughly $13,000 a year. Truvada’s proponents say most insurance plans — including Medicaid programs — now cover prescriptions for it, and they cite studies showing that the blue pill, if taken diligently, can reduce the risk of getting HIV by more than 90 percent, the AP said.

A town hall panel discussion on PrEP is planned for April 28 from 7-9 p.m. at the GLBT Community Center of Baltimore. Visit for details.


Gay porn actor tests positive for HIV

Rod Daily, pornography, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade, Next Door Studios

Porn actor Rod Daily and his girlfriend tested positive for HIV. (Photo courtesy Next Door Studios)

LOS ANGELES — A second porn star who’s straight but works exclusively in gay porn said last week that he recently tested positive for HIV two weeks after his girlfriend, who also works in the porn industry, was infected, the Pasadena Star News reported citing a report from the Los Angeles Daily News.

Joshua Rodgers, 32, who works in gay porn under the stage name Rod Daily, told the Daily News last week that he was infected sometime in the last month. Last month, porn actress Cameron Bay said she tested positive, which led to a weeklong shutdown of adult film production in the San Fernando Valley area where much of it is produced, the Daily News said. Rodgers said he’s worked exclusively in gay porn since 2010 on sets that require condoms.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based company, said in a statement to the Daily News that it’s “gravely concerned” that “the porn industry continues to endanger its workers by ignoring prudent health and worker safety laws by shooting adult films without condoms.”


Calendar through September 26

Buck Angel, gay news, Washington Blade, transgender

Filmmaker and transgender advocate Buck Angel will be at Secret Pleasures on Wednesday for a workshop on gender and sexuality. (Photo courtesy Secret Pleasures)

Friday, Sept. 20

DJ Joe Gauthreaux spins at Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.) tonight. Free rail vodka drinks from 11 p.m.-midnight. Cover is $10. Admission is 21 and up. For more information, visit

Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) hosts Bear Happy Hour tonight from 6-11 p.m. There is no cover charge and admission is limited to guests 21 and over. For more information, visit

Gay District meets at The D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) tonight from 8:30-9:30 p.m. The facilitated group discussion covers building understanding of gay culture and personal identity and awareness of community events for LGBT men between the ages of 18 and 35 in the D.C. area. For more details, visit or

SMYAL hosts “Vogue Night” (410 7th St., S.E.) tonight from 5-7 p.m. Learn the art of voguing and practice your moves at this event designed especially for youth. For more information, visit

Saturday, Sept. 21

Burgundy Crescent, a gay volunteer organization, volunteers for the Lost Dog and Cat Foundation at PetSmart (6100 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, Va.,) from 11:45 a.m.-3 p.m. today. For more information visit

The Library of Congress holds its 2013 National Book Festival on the National Mall (10th St., N.W. and Constitution Ave., N.W.) today from 10 a.m.- 5p.m. and Sunday from noon-5:30 p.m. Have books signed and meet best selling authors including the Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis, co-host of “Today” Hoda Kotb and author of “The Kite Runner” Khaled Hosseini. For details, visit

Wolf Trap Ball and the Embassy of France host “Joie de Vivre” on the Filene Center Stage (1645 Trap Road, Vienna, Va.,) tonight at 7 p.m. Honorary hosts include Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Ambassador of France François Delattre. Proceeds benefit Wolf Trap Foundation’s arts and education programs. RSVP required to For more information, visit

Layla Lounge (501 Morse St., N.E.) hosts an “Elite Boyz” dance party tonight from 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Admission is limited to guests 21 and over and is free before midnight and $10 afterward. For more information, visit

Sunday, Sept. 22

Black Fox Lounge (1723 Connecticut Ave. N.W.) hosts “Tula’s Drag Cabaret Show,” a lip-synch performance by local drag performers, tonight from 8-11 p.m. Admission is free. For details, visit or call 202-482-1723.

Perry’s (1811 Columbia Rd., N.W.) hosts its weekly “Sunday Drag Brunch” today from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The cost is $24.95 for an all-you-can-eat buffet. For more details, visit

Rainbow Families D.C. hosts a family picnic at Meadowbrook Park (7901 Meadowbrook Lane, Chevy Chase, Md.,) today from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Activities and games for both kids and adults. Bring own picnic lunch and snack or dessert to share. For details, visit

Adventuring, an LGBT outdoors group, hosts a Fall Equinox Night Hike through Old Rag today at 1:15 a.m. to watch the sunrise at 7 a.m. Meet at the East Falls Church Kiss and Ride lot at 1:15 a.m. Hike begins at 3:30 a.m. Cost is $25. Bring a head lamp, beverages, bug spray, sturdy boots and gloves. For experienced hikers only. For more information, visit

Gay author Manil Suri will read selections from his novel “The City of Devi” today at 12:55 p.m. at the National Book Festival on the National Mall. Details at Also look for him on Sept. 27 at 4:30 p.m. at George Mason University’s “Fall For the Book Festival” in Fairfax. Details at

Monday, Sept. 23

D.C. celebrates its first “Bi Pride Day” in the first floor conference room at The Residence at Thomas Circle (1330 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.) today from 6:30-8 p.m. The program includes a panel discussion with two elders in the D.C. bisexual community. Refreshments served. Open to the public. For more details, email

Dotgay LLC hosts a town hall discussion and reception about using the domain .gay on the fourth floor of the NGLCC Supplier Innovation Center (729 15th St., N.W.) from 6-8:30 p.m. tonight. Topics include new opportunities .gay will create for the community, community funding initiatives and more. Featured speaker is CEO and co-founder of dotgay LLC Scott Seitz. Event is free. Refreshments provided. Dress casual. Please RSVP to For more details, visit

The Mankind Project has a “Special GBTQ New Warrior Training Adventure” tonight from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at Cedar Lane Unitarian Church (rooms 30-31) at 9601 Cedar Lane in Bethesda. It’s free.

Tuesday, Sept. 24

SMYAL (410 7th St., S.E.) provides free and confidential HIV testing drop-in hours today from 3-5 p.m. For more information, visit

Bachelor’s Mill (1104 8th St., S.E.) offers all drinks half price tonight until 2 a.m. Enjoy pool, video games and cards. Admission is free. Must be 21 and over. For more details, visit

AIDS Healthcare Foundation hosts free STD testing at the University Medical Building (2141 K St., N.W.) from 5-7:30 p.m. For details visit

Wednesday, Sept. 25

The Lambda Bridge Club meets tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Dignity Center (721 8th St., S.E.) for duplicate bridge. No reservations required and new comers welcome. If you need a partner, call 703-407-6540.

Secret Pleasures hosts “Sexing the Transman with Buck Angel” tonight at 7 p.m. Includes interviews with trans men and people who love trans men. Cost is $25. For more information or to buy tickets, visit

The D.C. Ambassadors of the Trevor Project have a “cocktails and conversation” event this evening from 6-8 p.m. at 9½, the upstairs video bar of Number Nine (1435 P Street, N.W.). Drinks are two-for-one. A $10 donation is suggested. Attendees will discuss the Trevor Project’s “Talk to Me” campaign as it relate to LGBT youth in connection with National Suicide Prevention Month.

Thursday, Sept. 26

Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) hosts its monthly meeting at the D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) tonight at 7 p.m. The organization works to reduce violence toward LGBT people through community outreach, education and monitoring legal cases to ensure the dignity of LGBT victims. For more information, visit

The D.C. Center and Pros in the City host speed dating for lesbian and bisexual women at Chi Cha Lounge (1624 U St., N.W.) tonight from 7-9 p.m. Dating is approximately one hour. After enjoy a mixer with fellow speed daters. Cash bar. Check in is at 7 p.m. and dating begins at 7:20 p.m. Complimentary valet parking offered to anyone who purchases two drinks or other items from the bar or restaurant. Cost is $30. For details, visit

Whitman-Walker Health provides free HIV testing at Miriam’s Kitchen (2401 Virginia Ave., N.W.) today from 4-6 p.m. For more information, visit

Rude Boi Entertainment hosts “Tempted 2 Touch,” a ladies dance party, tonight at the Fab Lounge (2022 Florida Ave., N.W.). Doors open at 10 p.m. Drink specials $5 and vodka shots $3 all night. No cover charge. Admission limited to guests 21 and over. For more details, visit

Gay singer/songwriter Tom Goss is performing with full band accompaniment tonight at The Dunes (1402 Meridian Pl., N.W.). Goss will be joined by fellow out performer, Jeremiah Clark. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.  Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at


High price for Hep C drug sparks controversy

Carl Schmid, Hep C, drug, Gilead, the AIDS Institute, gay news, Washington Blade

Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, said Sovaldi is expensive, ‘but this is remarkable progress and the cure rate is extremely high.’ (Photo courtesy of Schmid)

The pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences received praise earlier this month for bringing to market a newly approved drug capable of curing the potentially fatal liver disease Hepatitis C without the serious and debilitating side effects caused by the existing drug used to treat the disease.

Experts say 20 percent of people with HIV are co-infected with Hepatitis C, which over a period of years can lead to death through liver cancer and liver failure. Physicians treating people with HIV, including Whitman-Walker Health’s medical director, Dr. Richard Elion, have called Gilead’s new drug a major breakthrough.

But at least two organizations that advocate for people with HIV and Hepatitis C have denounced Gilead for setting the wholesale price for its new drug Sovaldi at a level they consider exorbitant and which they say could lead to further escalating prices for AIDS drugs.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nation’s largest private organization providing medical services for people with HIV/AIDS, and the Fair Pricing Coalition, which advocates for affordable prices for prescription drugs for people with serious illnesses, called Gilead’s decision to set a wholesale acquisition cost of $84,000 for a 12-week treatment regimen of Sovaldi unprecedented.

“There can be no better example of the unbridled greed of the pharmaceutical industry than Gilead’s latest move: pricing its new hepatitis drug at $84,000 per 28-tablet bottle or $1,000 per pill,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AHF.

Lynda Dee, co-chair of Fair Pricing Coalition, called Sovaldi a “very safe and highly effective drug” but noted that it must be used in combination with other drugs to treat different Genotypes, or strains, of Hepatitis C.

She said that although the other drugs – pegylated interferon and ribavirin – are not as expensive as Sovaldi, the price tag for combination therapy with Sovaldi comes to $93,000 and $168,000 for various treatment regimens for a single person living with Hepatitis C.

“Gilead has set the bar dangerously high as other companies determine prices for similar Hepatitis C drugs as they enter the market,” Dee said.

In a statement released at the time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Sovaldi for patient use on Dec. 6, Gilead said it had put in place a patient assistance program to ensure that people with Hepatitis C have access to Sovaldi regardless of their ability to pay for it.

The statement said the program provides assistance to “patients who are uninsured, underinsured or who need financial assistance to pay for the medicine.” The program, called Support Path, will provide Sovaldi “at no charge for eligible patients with no other insurance options,” according to the statement.

While praising Gilead for offering such a program, which is common within the pharmaceutical industry, critics say the high price for Sovaldi would likely prompt other companies to put in place similarly high pricing policies for other promising drugs about to be released for the treatment of both Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.

Some Wall Street analysts suggested Gilead’s price for Sovaldi may be justified when taking into consideration the amount it spent to bring such a beneficial drug to market. Bloomberg business news service reported that Gilead, which didn’t invent Sovaldi, paid $11 billion in 2011 to buy Pharmasset, Inc., the company that developed Sovaldi and other Hepatitis C drugs expected to be approved soon.

Bloomberg cited pharmaceutical industry observers who said the Hepatitis C drugs Gilead obtained through this purchase could pull in as much as $20 billion by 2020.

Clinical trials with patients monitored by the Food and Drug Administration demonstrated that Sovaldi had a cure rate of more than 90 percent for patients with the Genotype 2 strain of Hepatitis C following a 12-week regimen with the drug ribavirin. Patients with Genotype 3, another strain of Hepatitis C, had a similarly successful cure rate following a 24-week regimen of Sovaldi and Ribavirin, the trials showed.

For patients with Genotype 1 or 4 of the Hepatitis C infection, the Sovaldi treatment needed to be combined with pegylated alfa interferon, the drug of choice for Hepatitis C before the development of Sovaldi and other new drugs nearing completion of clinical trials, statements by Gilead and the FDA said. Interferon causes serious and debilitating side effects for most patients, forcing some to stop using it before the Hepatitis C virus can be eliminated, according to medical experts.

The good news, according to those monitoring Hepatitis C treatment developments, is that Gilead and other pharmaceutical companies are close to releasing other new drugs capable of effectively curing patients with the Genotype 1 and Genotype 4 strains without the need for Interferon.

“I believe that Sovaldi will have a major impact on public health by significantly increasing the number of Americans who are cured of Hepatitis C,” said Dr. Ira Jacobson, chief of the Division of Gastroenterology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, who served as a principal investigator in the clinical trials of Sovaldi.

Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, which advocates for people with HIV, said the ability of Sovaldi to actually cure patients with Hepatitis C makes it different from HIV drugs on the market, which keep most patients healthy but cannot cure HIV/AIDS.

“Yes, it’s expensive,” he said of Sovaldi. “But this is remarkable progress and the cure rate is extremely high.”


Rose Parade gay wedding inspires controversy

An Orange Grove float in the 2009 Rose Parade. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

An Orange Grove float in the 2009 Rose Parade. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

A planned float in the Rose Parade that is slated to feature the theme “Love is the Best Protection” and atop which two Los Angeles men plan to get married on New Year’s Day has inspired controversy, the Pasadena Star News reports.

Because of the cake-shaped float sponsored by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a San Diego woman is calling for a boycott, the Star News said.

“Gay marriage is illegal in over 30 states,” the paper quoted Karen Grube as having said. “Why would they promote something that is blatantly illegal? That’s just stupid.”

She also lamented what she called a “political agenda” in the parade.

“It used to be a family thing, to get up on New Year’s Day morning and watch the parade,” she was quoted as saying. “It no longer is.”

Danny Leclair plans to marry his long-time partner Aubrey Loots, the paper reports. About 68 million are expected to see it on TV. As same-sex marriage is now legal in California, AHF President Michael Weinstein said he hopes boycotters will respect “the law of the land.”

Tournament of Roses officials said they welcome the entry and the wedding.

The Pasadena Star News has more here.


Price of new once-daily AIDS drug draws criticism

Truvada, Gilead, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Gilead)

SAN FRANCISCO — Gilead’s new once-daily AIDS drug Stribild provides an attractive option for those with HIV who have never started a meds regiment before, but activists say the $33,000 a year price-tag will make it unattainable for most who need it.

“In the long run, the cost to Gilead to actually produce [Stribild] will be a small fraction of its selling price, which means Gilead can show restraint on…pricing and still make an enormous profit,” AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein told the Huffington Post, after a massive ACT UP San Francisco demonstration at the drug maker’s headquarters over the price.

Activists are putting pressure not just on Gilead, but on lawmakers to intervene and making HIV drugs more affordable for more people.


Year in review: D.C. hosts International AIDS Conference

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Uganda

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored Ugandan human rights advocates at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

More than 30,000 people from around the world gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. in July for the International AIDS Conference.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.,) Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg and gay singer Elton John were among the politicians, public health officials and others who spoke during the gathering that took place in the United States for the first time since San Francisco hosted it in 1990. (President Obama in 2009 completed the process that lifted the ban on people with HIV/AIDS from entering the country.)

Mayor Vincent Gray and other D.C. officials used the conference to highlight the city’s ongoing efforts to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the nation’s capital. The NAMES Project showcased tens of thousands of panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt throughout the metropolitan area in July, while the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and other HIV/AIDS service providers protested what they contend is a lack of commitment from the White House and other American politicians to combat the epidemic. U.S. Park Service police arrested Housing Works President Charles King and 12 others who tried to tie red ribbons, condoms and other items to the White House fence following a protest in Lafayette Park.

The 20th International AIDS Conference is scheduled to take place in Melbourne, Australia, in July 2014.