Public vs Private Spas: Can Hot Tubs Make You Sick?
“Can hot tubs make you sick?” The answer to that question is no, but they can transmit disease, and an improperly maintained spa can lead to a number of undesirable infections. As with any recreational water activities, the possibility is always present, but the proper precautions can mitigate most of the risk and allow you to relax in your hot tub as intended.
What’s the Danger?
Recreational water illnesses (RWI) are not uncommon problems. They can happen in the ocean, in local swimming holes, in public pools, and yes, even in hot tubs. Water’s just too effective a communicating medium, and too hospitable a location for bacteria, viruses, and parasites. And the list of illnesses that proliferate in these perpetually wet environments is pretty long.
The most common water-borne illnesses cause digestive tract issues like diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. These symptoms can be caused by viruses like norovirus, parasites like Cryptosporidium and Giardia, and bacteria like Shigella and E. coli. These illnesses typically only occur when the individual swallows contaminated water or gets it in their mouth.
Also among commonly contracted illnesses relevant to hot tubs and spas is “hot tub rash,” a chicken pox-esque rash caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This particular skin infection is usually minor and resolves itself without treatment.
Additionally, there are the rarer skin and open wound infections that can occur, including Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia that can be dangerous to smokers, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.
“But There’s Chlorine in the Water…”
While sanitizing agents like chlorine can help decrease the risk of spreading infections, it’s not foolproof, and only works if used properly. Though usually pretty effective in swimming pools, it tends to be less effective in hot tubs because higher temperatures can break down chemicals, decreasing their efficacy.
Beyond that, bathers and the human effect have a tendency to make matters worse. Skin lotion, sunscreen, hair products, and sweat deplete chlorine levels in any body of water. Then there’s the potential of other contaminants, like urine bathers secretly release (which they incorrectly assume is harmless). All of these contaminants can rob chlorine of its potency, while not infectious, can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract.
How to Protect Yourself: Public vs Private Hot Tub Use
So if hot tubs are can carry disease, why on earth would you ever use one? Well, proper use and maintenance eliminate nearly all of the risks. Not to mention, there’s a long list of hot tub health benefits to soaking in a spa, boosting your overall quality of life. The key is to minimize the transmission risks by taking the right precautions, which you can’t presume is happening with hot tubs open to public use.
- Make sure bathers wash off before and after getting in the hot tub.
- Test hot tub chemical levels before each use, and ensure proper levels—2-4 ppm for chlorine, 4-6 ppm for bromine, and pH of 7.2-7.8.
- Perform regular maintenance, clean the spa, replace the water, and change the filter at regular recommended intervals.
- Keep the water temperature at 104 degrees or below at all times.
- Be sure to “shock” the water with a high dose of sanitizer after use (so bacteria isn’t growing in between uses).
- Don’t get the water in your mouth.
- Talk to your doctor for recommendations on hot tub use while pregnant or in other special health circumstances.
Finally, installing your hot tub outdoors in the open air decreases the risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease, which only happens when you inhale steam or mist from the water. Follow these steps and you can use your hot tub confidently, knowing you’re keeping potential health risks in check.
For more tips on maintaining the safety and functionality of your spa or to get help finding the right hot tub for you, contact your local dealer today to get started.