What is a hot tub? A stress-free, aqueous haven, or a water barrel brimming with bacteria? That was the essence of the question addressed in a recent Huffington Post interview with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) epidemiologist Michele Hlavsa and University of Arizona Professor Charles Gerba. Although the headlines asserted, “This Will Make You Never, Ever Want to Get in a Hot Tub Again,” these two experts provide the kind of straight talk that can help you enjoy a healthy hot tub experience. As usual, knowledge is power.
Hot Tub Rash and More
In the interview, CDC epidemiologist Michele Hlavsa discussed “hot tub rash,” a condition that may result from using an inadequately disinfected hot tub. Levels of the bacterium
Pseudomonas aeruginosa1 may increase when hot tub disinfectant levels, such as chlorine and bromine, fall. Bacteria in water-soaked bathing suits can cause an infection of the hair follicles of the skin to which wet bathing suits cling. The infection is technically known as Pseudomonas folliculitis. Fortunately, hot tub rash—which may follow the shape of a person’s bathing suit—normally disappears within a week.
Another potential condition associated with inadequately disinfected hot tubs is Legionnaire’s disease, a severe type of pneumonia, and its milder counterpart, Pontiac Fever which according to Ms. Hlavsa, causes flu-like symptoms. These illnesses are transmitted by the inhalation of mists or tiny airborne droplets containing the Legionella bacterium. Senior citizens, smokers and those with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to these illnesses.
Download the following tip sheet for staying healthy in the hot tub:
Fred Reiff, P.E., is a retired official from both the U.S. Public Health Service and the Pan American Health Organization, and lives in the Reno, Nevada area.
1Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the bacterium that is the common cause of swimmer’s ear. According to a 2011 CDC report, “swimmer’s ear” accounts for 2.4 million doctor visits and nearly $500 million in health care costs annually.