The recent surge in Ebola cases has prompted a lot of concern and chatter on the subject. Hot tubs have once again become a target of health stories, with several news stories such as How Safe Are Hot Tubs?, WSJ Oct 20, 2014, or Ask Ila: Are hot tubs safe? Masslive Oct 24, 2014.
A great story recently comes from Lifehacker – just 9 minutes ago – Five Fear Mongering Stories That Are True (But Overblown). The number one story is that Public Hot Tubs are Rife with Disease.“It seems like once or twice a year, the news decides to remind us all that any type of public bathing is disgusting. These stories typically come about in overblown, hyperbole-filled rants about diseases like Legionnaires…”
Hot Tub Folliculitis
Some stories are true, in a hot tub with insufficient filtration, poor water balance, low chlorine and unwashed users – bacteria such as Pseudomonas can survive, which can cause hot tub folliculitis. However, even in hot tubs with measurable levels of pseudomonas, it can be prevented by limiting your soak time, removing swimsuits promptly and taking a soapy shower.
When I travel, I always carry along a travel size hot tub test strips, especially when traveling to places where hot tubs exist, like ski resorts, island resorts and cruise ships. Most hotels have hot tubs too, and unless you are visiting a Ft. Lauderdale beach hotel during spring break, you’ll find resort hot tubs to be nearly always vacant, with crystal clear water.
My two rules when using public hot tubs, are #1: Check the pH and chlorine level and #2: Clean and clear water is a must. A strong smell of chlorine is not the best indicator, as this usually means that the hot tub (or nearby pool) has high levels of combined chlorine, which is a poor sanitizer. A test strip will tell for sure – what the level of free chlorine is and, that the pH level is in a good range for the chlorine to work effectively.
Hot Tubs & Ebola
Can you contract the Ebola virus from a hot tub or spa? The quick answer is No, or at least probably not. The reason for this is that a virus cannot survive extended periods of time outside the host, or the body. According to Alan Schmaljohn from the University of Maryland, in water, the Ebola virus would be deactivated in a matter of minutes. Water is a very different medium than bodily fluids, and viruses cannot survive in hot tubs for long.
Especially in filtered, balanced, chlorinated hot tubs. Chlorine, or it’s little cousin Bromine, are powerful disinfectants, and at levels of 1-3 ppm for chlorine, or 2-4 ppm for bromine, the Ebola virus is killed nearly instantly. As the CDC and others recommend, chlorine bleach solution kills the Ebola virus.
So No – catching the Ebola virus from a hot tub, is probably very unlikely. However, some forms of bacteria can exist in over-used and under-maintained public spas, most notably Pseudomonas, as mentioned above.
Using Public Hot Tubs
As my new friends at Lifehacker would agree, don’t let some overblown media coverage prevent you from enjoying a nice soak at the gym, or while on vacation. Use your eyes and nose to check if the spa is clear (it’s easier to tell when the lights are up and the jets are off).
Use a chlorine / pH test strip to surreptitiously test the spa water. You can just saunter over and act like your testing the temperature with your hand, when hidden in your palm is a test strip, lol – that’s what I do! Then walk back to your seat and compare the strip for good pH and sanitizer level.
If you decide to enjoy the hot tub, limit your session to 15 minutes, and just to be safe – don’t drink the water or dunk your head underwater.
Oh, and be a good citizen – take a hot, soapy shower before and after you use a public spa or hot tub – a spa is not a bathtub!
Happy Hot Tubbin’