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Playboy Mansion outbreak: Bacteria traced to whirlpool spa [Updated]

April 15, 2011 |  5:17 pm

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Health officials identified legionella bacteria in a whirlpool spa at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles during an investigation in February that began when people were sickened after attending a fundraiser.

A number of people came down with a respiratory illness after DomainFest's Feb. 1-3 conference, which culminated in a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles. Officials investigated to see if legionellosis was at fault; the more severe version of that illness is known as Legionnaires' disease, while a milder version is called Pontiac fever.

Out of 439 people contacted by L.A. County public health officials, 123 fell sick with fever and at least one other symptom, such as headache, cough, shortness of breath, or aches. Sixty-nine people got sick  on the same day, Feb. 5.

The investigation involved an unusual tactic: the use of social media. Health investigators used blogs, Twitter and Facebook and had an online survey sent to all 715 conference attendees, who had traveled from 30 countries, to determine the extent of the outbreak. Seventy-nine people said through social media that they were ill.

Although several attendees indicated that they were diagnosed with legionellosis, county health officials were unable to verify the diagnosis through laboratory analysis. Three attendees, however, did test positive for the H1N1 flu.

Nonetheless, because legionella bacteria were found at the Playboy Mansion, officials concluded that exposure to the Playboy Mansion "was associated with increased risk for illness," potentially involving either the Legionella pneumophila bacterium or the flu.

[Updated, 10:30 p.m.: Late Friday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a statement on the identification of the bacteria:

“Though Legionella bacteria was identified in a water sample taken from the Playboy Mansion, this bacteria has not been determined as the source of the respiratory outbreak. Other potential causes under investigation include influenza, as three individuals who attended the conference tested later positive for the flu. However, the cause of the outbreak has not been conclusively determined at this time,” the statement said. “Investigations such as this one can take several months.]

The results were made public Friday in a presentation by L.A. County health officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual Epidemic Intelligence Service conference in Atlanta.

ALSO:

Parents reminded to have their teens immunized

USC official explains how wrong patient received kidney

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: A view of the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. Credit: Fred Prouser / Reuters

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