Proof on AIDS dentist inconclusive, doctor says

June 19, 1994|By Orlando Sentinel

MIAMI -- It's a question that will not die: Did Stuart, Fla., dentist David Acer infect Kimberly Bergalis and five other patients with the AIDS virus before going to his grave?

Four years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta concluded that he did, a Miami Beach physician is assailing the scientific evidence the institute relied upon: DNA tests.

"The CDC evidence is not absolutely correct -- far from it," virologist Lionel Resnick said Friday. "Based on the findings, you can't conclude . . . Dr. Acer infected his patients."

Dr. Resnick, chief of retrovirology and research at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, will repeat his assertions tonight on a CBS segment of "60 Minutes" already attacked as "junk journalism" and "junk science."

CBS spokesman Roy Brunett said the show would air "compelling new information" that suggests Dr. Acer was not responsible for infecting Ms. Bergalis or the other patients, and that Ms. Bergalis, who maintained until her December 1991 death that she never had sexual intercourse, engaged in "high-risk" sexual behavior.

CBS did not interview Ms. Bergalis' family or her attorney.

Dr. Acer died in 1990 shortly after publishing a letter to his patients informing them he had acquired immune deficiency syndrome. He is the only health-care provider ever blamed for infecting patients with HIV, which causes AIDS.

Ms. Bergalis, a 23-year-old University of Florida graduate from Fort Pierce, Fla., was the first of six patients whom the CDC determined were infected by Dr. Acer during routine dental visits. She made eloquent pleas for AIDS testing of health care workers. Two of the other five patients also have died.

Ms. Bergalis' attorney, Robert Montgomery, who also represents two of the remaining patients, called Dr. Resnick's research "junk science" and the CBS report "junk journalism."

He questioned Dr. Resnick's credibility, noting that the physician was paid at least $80,000 for his research by the insurance company that eventually paid millions of dollars in claims to Ms. Bergalis and other patients infected by Dr. Acer.

Although CDC officials and consultants do not know how Dr. Acer transmitted the virus to his patients, they concluded, based on DNA sequencing, that he had to be the source.

As far as George Bergalis, Kimberly's father, is concerned, the debate is over and the issue is fear -- fear of the truth his daughter's death imparted to the world: Health care providers can infect their patients with AIDS.

"This story is being perpetuated by the enemies of truth," Mr. jTC Bergalis said. "The medical community, the insurers, the government officials are still fearful of Kim and what she tried to do. They couldn't defeat her while she was alive, so they want to cast a shadow over her in death."

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