Before I went to medical school, I went to another school where I received a master’s degree in epidemiology. No, this is not where I learned about bugs (that’s entomology) nor is it the study of how to reproduce 3-dimensional animals (that’s taxidermy). Epidemiology includes, among other things, the detective work which helps explain how outbreaks occur, particularly when illnesses are involved. And although my time is primarily spent in a pediatric office these days, whenever I hear about another 'outbreak,' I am still as intrigued by it all as I was 15 years ago.
So when news broke out earlier this week that a mysterious illness possibly broke out after a party at the Playboy Mansion (remember, this is all allegedly at this point), it’s fair to say my usual interest in these things may have increased just a bit this time around. And as I’m sure many of you have come across this story over the last few days, I won’t bore you with too many of the story details other than the fact that it appears over 200 of the party guests have come down with symptoms that resemble a strong flu-like illness, with some developing pneumonia.
And while no diagnosis has been made (you can’t rush good detective work), I can assure you the Los Angeles County of Department of Health (an agency I worked for quite some time ago) is putting the pieces together as I write this. In fact, if (and again I repeat if) the Playboy Mansion is the source of the illness, a logical explanation for it all is a bacteria that causes legionellosis which can cause Legionnaire’s disease and the milder form of the illness, Pontiac fever. Both of these illnesses cause fever, cough, aches and in the more severe form, can lead to pneumonia. Each year, up to 18,000 Americans are hospitalized with Legionnaire’s disease and those persons with compromised immune systems are often at greater risk of developing complications.
But getting back to the epidemiology-side of things, the reason this illness stands out as a likely source is how this bacteria spreads. It enjoys warm-water sources: jacuzzis, humidifiers, air-conditioning units, fog sprays among others. And although no confirmation has yet to occur (few more days I am guessing), it’s safe to say the Playboy Mansion does have a few warm-water sources going year round.
So stay tuned as I know our local department of health will clarify matters soon and this smaller-sized outbreak can be a reminder of what detective work is all about.