Playboy Mansion Mystery: What made the guests sick?

Earlier this month, the legendary Playboy mansion was the site of a fundraiser as part of a yearly event called the DOMAINfest Global Conference.A few days later, dozens of guests from the party had become ill, and the Los Angeles Times reports that LA County health officials have been called in to investigate. Sarah Kissell, a department spokeswoman, told the Times that “An investigation into the cause and extent of illness and into potential sources of exposure is ongoing. ” Guests who reported illness complained of respiratory problems, flu-like symptoms and pneumonia. Guest suspect that a fog machine used indoors at the party may be involved.   According to industry website DNJournal, one attendee from Sweden who had fallen ill had a hospital lab test done which confirmed a Legionellosis bacterial infection.

Playboy spokeswoman Teri Thomerson said the Playboy Mansion was cooperating fully with the Department of Public Health’s investigation. We will keep an eye on this story and report back when a final determination is made.

What is Legionnaires’ disease? (Source: Centers for Disease Control)

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a type of bacteria called Legionella. The bacteria got its name in 1976, when many people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion suffered from an outbreak of this disease, a type of pneumonia (lung infection). Although this type of bacteria was around before1976, more illness from Legionnaires’ disease is being detected now as physicians now look for this disease when a patient has pneumonia.

Each year, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in the U.S. However, many infections are not diagnosed or reported, so this number may be higher. More illness is usually found in the summer and early fall, but it can happen any time of year.

What are the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease can have symptoms like many other forms of pneumonia, so it can be hard to diagnose at first. Signs of the disease can include: a high fever, chills, and a cough. Some people may also suffer from muscle aches and headaches. Chest X-rays are needed to find the pneumonia caused by the bacteria, and other tests can be done on sputum (phlegm), as well as blood or urine to find evidence of the bacteria in the body.

These symptoms usually begin 2 to 14 days after being exposed to the bacteria.

A milder infection caused by the same type of Legionella bacteria is called Pontiac Fever . The symptoms of Pontiac Fever usually last for 2 to 5 days and may also include fever, headaches, and muscle aches; however, there is no pneumonia. Symptoms go away on their own without treatment and without causing further problems.

Pontiac Fever and Legionnaires’ disease may also be called “Legionellosis” separately or together.

How serious is it? What is the treatment?

Legionnaires’ disease can be very serious and can cause death in up to 5% to 30% of cases. Most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics  and healthy people usually recover from infection.

Where do Legionella bacteria come from?

The Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in water. The bacteria grow best in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, or parts of the air-conditioning systems of large buildings. They do not seem to grow in car or window air-conditioners.

How do people get Legionnaires’ disease?

People get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) that has been contaminated with the bacteria. One example might be from breathing in the steam from a whirlpool spa that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected.

The bacteria are NOT spread from one person to another person.

Outbreaks are when two or more people become ill in the same place at about the same time, such as patients in hospitals. Hospital buildings have complex water systems, and many people in hospitals already have illnesses that increase their risk for Legionella infection.

Other outbreaks have been linked to aerosol sources in the community, or with cruise ships and hotels, with the most likely sources being whirlpool spas, cooling towers (air-conditioning units from large buildings), and water used for drinking and bathing.

For more information about Legionnellosis, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

2 Comments

  1. Bill

    July 17, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Hi there, You’ve done a fantastic job. I will definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m confident they’ll be benefited from this website.

    • Dr. M

      July 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks Bill. Legionella was confirmed at the Mansion. I hope you will continue to enjoy the website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real Time Analytics Google Analytics Alternative