Microbiology Mystery at the Playboy Mansion!


February 2011

Several days after attending a pool party hosted at the legendary Playboy Mansion, over one hundred guests became ill complaining of respiratory problems, flu-like symptoms, and pneumonia. One guest suspected that a fog machine used indoors at the party may have been involved.

Can you name the warm water loving bacteria that when aerosolized can lead to a flu-like illness and potentially pneumonia?

Hint:  "You should have seen what I cysteine in the grotto!"

What’s your guess?  Or do you require “on-scene” investigation? It’s on the boards and even Hugh knows this answer now!!!


Watch Video for Diagnosis


Legionella pneumophila


Key Features

  • Facultative intracellular Gram (-) Bacteria
  • Transmission is via aerosols - the inhalation of mist droplets containing the bacteria.
  • This bacteria grows best in warm water.
  • Sources include:

o      central air conditioners

o      hot water tanks

o      humidifiers

o      water fountains

o      swimming pools

o      hot tubs

o      lakes and streams

  • May occur as epidemics
  • Community-acquired pneumonia (4th most common causative organism)
  • Requires cysteine and iron to be present for culture
  • Silver stain positive


Note: “Legionellosis” = Pontiac fever and/or Legionnaires disease


Pontiac fever

  • Mild self-limited form
  • Flu-like illness with fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, and a dry cough.
  • Doesn’t develop into pneumonia


Legionnaires disease

  • Severe form
  • Risk factors are

o      Immunosuppression

o      Smokers with COPD

o      Advanced age

  • Clinical Features

o      Atypical pneumonia

o      High fever and chills

o      Chest pain

o      Watery diarrhea

o      Nausea and vomiting

o      Headaches and confusion

Copyright (c) 2011 John Barone MD. All rights reserved.


Category: Microbiology Mnemonics

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