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Number sickened after Playboy Mansion fundraiser rises to 200

February 15, 2011 |  4:11 pm

Los Angeles County health officials said Tuesday that the number of people who have fallen ill after a four-day conference that culminated in a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion has reached 200, and that investigators have focused on the Playboy event as they look for the cause of the sickness.

The possible outbreak of legionellosis, or Pontiac fever, affected people connected with the DOMAINfest Global Conference, "with symptoms mostly consisting of fever, chills, general discomfort (malaise) and some cough," according to a statement by the county Department of Public Health.

More than 700 people from 30 countries attended the conference held at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica Feb. 1-3.

“The department is currently focusing its investigation on the social event that occurred at the Playboy Mansion, Holmby Hills, on Feb. 3, 2011,” the statement said, noting that, “Public Health has not yet determined that exposure is limited to a specific source from that event. There is no information suggesting that there is a risk of ongoing infection or that this outbreak extends beyond those individuals associated with this conference.”

Many of those sickened after the conference have fully recovered, according to the statement, and they may not have suffered the same illness.

“We are considering several possible causes of illness for this suspected outbreak,” said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county’s public health director.

“Not everyone with reported symptoms is likely to have the same illness, because a number of respiratory infections with similar symptoms are circulating,” Fielding said. “We are working diligently to identify the causes, which may include viruses, bacteria or irritants.”

Teri Thomerson, a Playboy spokeswoman, released a statement Tuesday saying, “The Playboy Mansion continues to fully cooperate with the Dept. of Public Health in their investigation.”

She did not respond to further e-mails or phone calls.

The department was notified last Friday of a "suspected respiratory infection outbreak" among those associated with the conference for technology professionals in the domain name industry.

The state Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and surrounding county health departments have been providing assistance to county health officials.

Pontiac fever is not contagious, and most symptoms disappear in two to five days, according to the CDC. Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia that usually responds to antibiotics, although 5% to 30% of cases prove fatal, according to the CDC.

A statement the department sent to conference attendees Friday noted that some at the conference had developed pneumonia.

Seven patients became sick and two died in a Legionnaires' outbreak at Good Samaritan Hospital in 2002. Nationally, Legionnaires' affects 8,000 to 18,000 people annually.

Mason Cole, a spokesman for DOMAINfest organizer Oversee.net, encouraged conference attendees to get tested.

“If you haven’t been in touch with the L.A. County Department of Public Health and you were a guest at one of these events, you should get in touch, even if you’re healthy,” said Cole. “At this stage, we’re just trying to help the doctors figure out what this is.

"There’s so much speculation about what caused this, but we don’t have any facts.”


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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske