Mystery sickness strikes guests at pre-Oscar event

— A mystery illness has overcome at least 100 guests who attended a pre-Oscar ceremony honoring scientific and technical achievement last weekend.

About 500 people attended the dinner and awards presentation Saturday at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills. Although many became ill the next day, some guests didn't show symptoms for several days.

The total number of people sickened has not been determined, but the Los Angeles County Department of Health said Thursday that at least 100 were overcome, while Oscar officials said it could be nearly 200.

County epidemiologists were examining everything from the fish and beef on the menu to the desserts and wine. Investigators also collected stool samples from sickened individuals to determine the nature of the disorder.

The illness was characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and sometimes a low-grade fever. Symptoms were typically lasting one to two days.

Nearly 20 employees of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences called in sick earlier this week amid the organization's busy Oscar season, said spokesman John Pavlik. Among them is Laura Ziskin, who's producing the March 24 Oscar telecast.

"It seems like it was about half the people at each table," Pavlik said. "For instance, I didn't get sick, but my wife did, and we both ate the same things."

Pavlik added that another person at his table had a vegetable plate with no fish or meat and still became ill. "Whatever it was, it seems to have skipped around a lot," he said.

The menu included arugula salad, lobster bisque, roasted beef with a side of halibut, mashed potatoes, tomatoes and asparagus tips. Among the desserts were berry sorbet, chocolate cake, lemon tart and assorted fruits.

Hotel officials did not immediately return calls for comment.

County health investigators said they don't believe the problem was an isolated illness.

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