Image: Playboy Mansion
Fred Prouser  /  Reuters file
Within 24 hours after leaving an event at the Playboy Mansion, scores of attendees reported feeling ill, according to media reports.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/14/2011 6:18:42 PM ET 2011-02-14T23:18:42

A mysterious illness sickened about 170 people attending a global Internet conference in Southern California, but it was unclear if a party at the Playboy Mansion played any role in spreading it, health officials said Monday.

The Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health said it learned Friday that people who attended the DOMAINfest Global conference in Santa Monica had come down with a suspected respiratory infection.

The agency contacted everyone associated with the conference, and so far about 170 people have reported fever, chills, coughs or other signs of illness.

The type of illness and source of exposure remained under investigation.

The Feb. 3 conference was attended by hundreds of Internet professionals from 30 countries. The weeklong conference was held at a hotel in Santa Monica but nighttime events included a Polynesian-themed pool and garden party, a networking event at the famed Los Angeles Skybar, and a charity fundraiser at Hefner's 21,987-square-foot Gothic-Tudor-style mansion in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles.

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"At this time, public health has not determined that the source of exposure is limited to a specific location," the agency's statement said.

The Playboy Mansion was cooperating fully with the health investigation, said an e-mail from Teri Thomerson, spokeswoman for Playboy Enterprises Inc.

Health officials said it appeared the illness was confined to the conference-goers.

Because many live outside of Los Angeles County, officials were investigating in cooperation with health departments in surrounding counties, the state Department of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Within 24 hours after leaving the mansion, scores of attendees reported coming down with symptoms that included fever, respiratory problems and violent headaches, KTLA-TV reported.

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The county Department of Public Health on Friday sent an e-mail to all conference attendees alerting them that health officials had received a cluster of reports that people who attended the function and the conference had become ill, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Attendees complained of mysterious respiratory problems, including pneumonia. The Times reported that some suspect their symptoms are related to Legionellosis, or Pontiac fever — a milder form of Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by bacteria living in warm air-conditioning systems.

“It knocked me off my feet for five days,” one attendee, David Castello, told The Times. “I’m over it now, but I’m still feeling fatigue, which is not a good thing.”

A representative for DOMAINfest told the New York Post it was working with the LA County Health Department to investigate. "We have no idea what this is or where it came from. The mansion being to blame is, at the moment, pure speculation," the Post quoted the official as saying.

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Video: Mystery ailment hits Playboy Mansion visitors

  1. Transcript of: Mystery ailment hits Playboy Mansion visitors

    RICHARD LUI, anchor: And then a group of people at the Playboy Mansion may have had some breathing problems. The Los Angeles Department of Public Health says it is looking into a suspected respiratory infection outbreak among people who attended a fund-raiser 10 days ago. Pneumonia symptoms were reported there.

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