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Playboy Mansion outbreak: Officials use Facebook, Twitter, social media to track mystery illness

April 25, 2011 |  8:05 am

The grotto at the Playboy Mansion

Health officials investigating a mystery illness that sickened scores of people at the Playboy mansion last year used Twitter, Facebook and an online poll as key tools to track down the source of the illness.

Details of the investigation were presented last week in Atlanta by Dr. Caitlin Reed at a conference at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Times has reviewed a copy of the presentation, which the county made available after a Public Records Act request.

A bacterium, Legionella pneumophila, is a suspect in the illnesses among attendees at a DomainFest fundraiser Feb. 3 at the mansion, in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Legionella bacterium can cause serious illness, including Legionnaires disease and pneumonia. H1N1 flu is also a suspect in the outbreak.

Health investigators used an online poll sent to all 715 conference attendees to get a better handle on the disease outbreak. They received more than 400 responses.

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, indicating that the outbreak was probably caused by a single source.

Social media outlets were helpful, according to Reed's presentation, because they allowed investigators to identify the outbreak quickly; enabled 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.

But there was also a downside, including "wasted effort responding to rumors."

Read more: Mystery illness at Playboy Mansion linked to bacterium that causes Legionnaires disease


Playboy Mansion outbreak: Bacteria traced to whirlpool spa

Pontiac fever at the Playboy Mansion? Maybe. But not as much fun as you might think

-- Rong Gong Lin II

Photo: The grotto at the Playboy Mansion. Credit: Fred Prouser / Reuters