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Mystery illness may be tied to Playboy Mansion’s famed grotto

Photo: The Playboy Mansion. L.A. Times file photo The bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease have been found in the Playboy Mansion’s grotto, the famed artificial cave that houses a whirlpool spa.

The bacteria, legionella pneumophila, are a suspect in the illnesses among attendees of a DomainFest fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles on Feb. 3. Legionella bacteria can cause serious illness, including pneumonia. H1N1 flu is also a suspect in the outbreak.

Panel from health officials presentation shows location of bacteriaPreviously, health authorities had said only that the bacteria legionella pneumophila were identified at a whirlpool spa at the Playboy Mansion. The precise location of that spa was made public during a presentation by Dr. Caitlin Reed at a conference of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta last week. The Times reviewed a copy of the presentation on Friday.

DOCUMENT: Read the report

In her presentation, Reed presented data showing that among everyone who attended the conference, the highest risk of illness was found to be in people who attended the Playboy Mansion party on Feb. 3, as opposed to people who attended parties at hotels.

 Reed presented a classic whodunit public disease investigation in her presentation. Twitter, Facebook and an online poll were key tools to help scientists track down the source of illness.

 Los Angeles County health officials were spurred into action on Feb. 11 after receiving a call from a journalist about the large number of illnesses following a DomainFest convention on Feb. 1-3; many attendees had begun writing on blogs and social media about widespread illnesses among conference attendees.

 On Feb. 7, for example, a person wrote on his Facebook page, “Domainerflu count: Who else caught the disease at DFG?” At least nine people were counted in the comments section. The presentation then quoted a Feb. 8 industry blog, DN Journal, that quoted the author’s daughter, a medical student, as writing that if “people are getting pneumonia” and “there is a suspected water source as the culprit,” then attendees should worry about bacterial infections and “definitely need to see their doctors. So many people getting sick in one place, sounds like a case for the CDC.”

 Health investigators used an online poll sent to all 715 attendees of the conference to get a better handle on the disease outbreak. They received more than 400 responses from the attendees of the conference, which discusses the latest in the Internet industry.

 The survey found that 123 people fell sick with fever and at least one other symptom, such as headache, cough, shortness of breath or aches. A key clue was that 69 people got sick on the same day, Feb. 5. That indicated that the outbreak was probably caused by a single source.

 Reed’s presentation said social media were helpful in the disease investigation, which helped investigators identify the outbreak quickly, enabling them to receive responses quickly from attendees, who had traveled from 30 countries; and allowed for the issuing of speedy recommendations for patients to receive lab testing.

 There were some negative side effects, the presentation said, including “wasted effort responding to rumors” and that it “amplified inaccurate media stories.”

The name of Legionnaires’ disease stems from its discovery in 1976 when attendees of an American Legion convention in Philadelphia became sick with the bacteria and developed pneumonia. About 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with the disease every year in the United States, according to the CDC.

Healthy people usually recover from the bacterial disease, which can be treated with antibiotics, but death can occur in 5% to 30% of cases, the CDC said.

A milder version of illness caused by Legionella bacteria is called Pontiac fever, which does not cause pneumonia but does cause fever, chills, cough and headaches.

Reed is a physician with the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service –- an elite group of disease scientists --  on loan to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

 A Playboy spokeswoman did not return a call for comment Friday morning.


Bacteria traced to whirlpool spa at Playboy Mansion

Meningococcal disease cases surge in L.A. County

L.A. County approves $207,000 settlement to patient who jumped from hospital window

 -- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration

Photos: (top) The Playboy Mansion. Credit: Los Angeles Times

(bottom) A panel from health officials' presentation shows the location of bacteria. Credit: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Comments () | Archives (24)

The bacteria is a mutant stew of sexually transmitted diseases, the warm water their breeding ground. People should know better than to stick a toe into a whirlpool at the notorious Playboy.

Why is this suprising?

Wow who would have thought that Heff's hot tub and spa would contain funky cooties. I heard that going into his spa was like getting into a giant bowl of egg-flower soup! now that is filthy, but according to the Playboy lifestyle it's all about hanging out and being natural with all kinds of people you dont even know! No thanks not in the age of AID'S and other STD'S and RETRO-VIRUS'S.

I've had Pontiac Fever, with all the symptoms, just after I bought my Trans-Am, back in '78. Oh what a feeling!!!

(Whoops, wrong car company)

I hate to think about the diseases one could get at the Playboy Mansion.

Hef needs to update his grotto upkeep to include draining the jacuzzi and a good scrubbing with bleach after every party. He can afford it. I am sure his guests expect nothing less.

I attended a party at the Playboy mansion. I must have parked 50 cars that night.

DomainFest is an international conference that attracts participants from all over the world. I suspect this could be a new a virus or bacteria that mutated from a country such as India, but we have never seen before in this region.

Why is this even a story? I'm sure a lot more diseases can be found in that grotto. Sheesh...

can you just imagine what showed under the microscope?

Not only Legionella bacteria, but the grotto and its' attendant whirlpools are breeding grounds for Richfella Skankola bacteria as well.

Young ladies are most susceptible and symptoms include extreme sluttiness in the presence of wealth or fame, accompanied by psychotic delusions that cause toothless octogenarians to appear attractive and desirable.


D'ya think they all held hands and jumped in at once?

one can only imagine what goes on in the Playboy GROSSto,all kind of stuff swimming around in that cesspool. Plain old nasty.

Surprise, surprise....and don't forget ewww...

Too much "panky" without the "hanky" in the pool.

Obviously, the Playboy Mansion grotto does not have the same effect on a person's health as the one in Massabielle, outside Lourdes.

Just a reminder -- it is libelous on its face to accuse someone of having an STD.

We still have libel laws. Even if it doesn't seem so on the Internet.

Sounds like an outbreak of "HEFITITUS T & A" to me....

Well, Huff Has allot of Hoker's through is pad, yanever know what they have,


I now strongly regret filling up my water bottle at the last party.

Come on people! It's not a mystery illness. It's just a combination of Syphillis, Genital Herpes and Chlamydia.

With all those tramps coming and going, it was a matter of time. Next time it might be HIV/AIDS somebody will contract.

Ew that is disgusting.


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