Waterborne Illness in Hot Tubs

hot tub

I know we just covered all the ways that your hot tub is good for you, but there can be some hidden dangers that you don’t think about. According to a disease outbreak study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, people are picking up waterborne illness in hot tubs during the wintertime.

The study showed that in one year there were 81 outbreaks and 1326 cases of illness in the US linked to recreational water exposure (pools, hot tubs, lakes, etc.). To be considered an outbreak, two or more people who visited the same location around the same time would have to become ill.

Eighteen of the outbreaks were linked to hot tubs or spas and 40 percent of them occurred in the winter months of February or March. A good chunk of these winter outbreaks occurred in hotels (yikes!). Diseases are most likely to be spread in poorly maintained or not properly chlorinated hot tubs.

One of the most common illnesses linked with these outbreaks is an infection caused by bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa which can cause ear infections or skin rashes in not-so-well maintained water.

According to epidemiologist Michele Hlavsa, “hot-tub rash” is a common problem and it is an infection that appears in the shape of the bathing suit a person is wearing because the contaminated water gets trapped in the material. Hlavsa works in the CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch.

While most recreational-water outbreaks are happening in the spring and summer, winter is not immune. Swimmers and/or hot tub dwellers can protect themselves and others by taking a preswim shower and not going swimming if they have (ahem) any kind of gastric distress.

You can also protect yourself by trying not to swallow water that you’re swimming or soaking in. In a hot tub, this means avoiding putting your head under water. Particularly in a hotel spa because: gross.

Hlavsa said “we all think that chlorine kills germs instantly, but it doesn’t.” Most germs are killed within a few minutes of exposure to the chemical but you can swallow that contaminated water before it has time to work its magic.

Bottom line: be careful about getting into dubiously maintained public hot tubs or spas and make sure you follow these simple steps to make sure the water in your spa at home is hygienic.

1)      Keep an eye on the water—look at your hot tub water every few days to make sure it’s looking clear and up to par.
2)      Use test strips twice a week and adjust chemical levels accordingly.
3)      Adjust hot tub chemicals alphabetically, first adjusting alkalinity, then bromine or chlorine, then the calcium hardness and finally the pH.
4)      Take a shower before getting in your hot tub. This is not a bath where the water is getting drained after each dip; don’t use it to clean yourself.
5)      Refill your hot tub every 3, 4, or 6 months depending how much your spa is getting used and if it passes the eye test.

I think I might think twice before getting into a hotel hot tub, won't you?

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