Health Concerns with Public Hot Tubs

Public hot tubs often appeal to vacationers. After all, what are vacations for but to relax? What many people don’t realize is that soaking in under maintained public hot tubs and pools could prove more detrimental to your health than good. Below I will explain some common health concerns associated with public hot tub use, and easy ways you can protect yourself.

Philip Tierno Jr., PhD, director of microbiology at NYU Medical Center stated, “In many spa treatments that involve water, including hot whirlpool baths, very seldom do they change the water. They toss in some chlorine to keep bacteria counts down, but in no way does this eradicate organisms completely.”

Gastrointestinal Problems

The cryptosporidium (Crypto) parasite can live in chlorinated spa water from 3 to 10 days. In 2008, the CDC recorded 14,000 incidences of health problems associated with this parasite, which causes prolonged diarrhea. It’s spread through fecal matter, and ingested by swallowing spa or pool water or eating anything that the water has touched, like food or beverages resting on a table or chair near the contaminated spa or pool.

Avoid eating or drinking while enjoying public swimming activities and take extra care not to swallow any pool or hot tub water.

Eye and Skin Irritation

Chlorine can irritate the skin, resulting in skin rashes or excessive drying. People can potentially pick up conjunctivitis (an eye infection) from swimming in a public pool or spa. The best way to eliminate the hazards associated with these problems is to shower off thoroughly after swimming, with warm, not hot, water and a mild soap.

For this reason it is important that the public pool or hot tub you enter is maintained by a trained professional. Don’t be shy to verify this with the hotel staff manager.

Respiratory Issues

Chlorine can be a highly toxic gas in excessive quantities and some people are more sensitive to it than others. When chlorine mixes in the spa with shed skin or hair, it creates an irritating product called chloramines. Studies among elite swimmers have found that the vast majority have asthma or inflamed lung or bronchial tubes that these chloramines cause. This layer of gas rests just above the water, where swimmers breathe the air.

If the public pool you’re considering using smells too strongly of chlorine, or has an odd/unpleasant odor, don’t go in. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Drowning Risk

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children between 1 and 4 years old and the second cause of death for children between 5 and 9. Public spas and pools must have locking fences around them and some states require any private pool in residential or lodging places be fenced, as well. Most public pools have lifeguards to monitor the safety of swimmers, but some have hours when lifeguards are not available.

The CDC reported that half the accidents associated with swimming pools occurred in public and quasi-public settings, found at spas and hotels. Recently, pools.gov reported that between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2013 in the United States, approximately 143 children under the age of 5 drowned in a pool or spa

To minimize drowning risks, never use a pool or hot tub alone, always have a partner with you and always keep a constant eye on children near water.

Staying safe in a Public Hot Tub

People who use public spas need to be aware of these hazards and do their part by showering thoroughly before entering the water. Parents or guardians need to take their children to the restroom prior to entering the spa to lower the chances of a Crypto outbreak and check the diapers of infants and toddlers. Teaching children not to swallow the water and to be careful about eating or drinking in the spa area will help them avoid ingesting harmful organisms.

Being vigilant about the safety of your children or companions who can’t swim or aren’t strong swimmers will also keep spa accidents and drowning risks down. Not running, paying attention to spa restrictions, and not bringing glassware into the spa will reduce the risks associated with swimming in a public setting. It is also highly recommended to consult with someone who is an expert in the healthcare ethics field for the most current information and strategies to avoid these types of spa-related health concerns.