Can hot tubs make you sick?

Hot tubs can be relaxing— but they’re also the perfect breeding ground for germs.

We recently received this question from a viewer:

Dear Dr. Manny,
Can hot tubs make me sick?

Yes, those soothing baths in bubbling water can make you ill.

The most common hot tub infection causes itchy red bumps. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rash is worse in areas that were previously covered by a swimsuit. Bacteria can also enter the air through bubbles, leading to a severe form of pneumonia, called Legionnaires’ disease.

Each year, nearly 18,000 people in the United States are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease, caused by a bacteria known as legionella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hot tubs that are not cleaned and disinfected enough can become contaminated with the bacteria, and a person can get infected with when they breathe in steam or mist from the hot tub.

Legionnaires’ disease is usually treatable with antibiotics, but can sometimes be fatal in older adults, smokers and people with weakened immune systems.

Water in hot tubs is not hot enough to kill bacteria and can actually help them grow faster. However, the heat does cause disinfectants, like chlorine, to break down, making the water even more susceptible to germs.

Luckily, you don’t have to stay away from hot tubs forever. Just stay clear of those in high-traffic areas— the more people in a tub, the greater the risk for illness. When you get out of the water, remove your swimsuit, shower with soap and clean your swimsuit to reduce your risk of hot tub rash.

You should also make sure that the hot tub you’re using has the right disinfectant and pH levels. You can purchase pool test strips at your local home improvement or pool supply store.

Click to read more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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