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It has often been said that the temperature, movement and the overall effect of water in the hot tub offer multiple therapeutic health benefits. Hot tub therapy is usually recommended for a wide variety of complaints and conditions: tired, aching and sore muscles, headaches and sleeping problems, circulation and blood pressure problems, chronic fatigue, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and more.

What people should be aware of, however, is that hot tubs that are not properly maintained and disinfected can cause health problems, most particularly Legionnaires’ disease — a type of pneumonia that afflicts as many as 18,000 patients every year in the United States alone. Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella, a type of bacteria that naturally thrives in hot or warm water, making hot tubs as well as hot water tanks, decorative fountains, large plumbing systems the ideal breeding ground for them. Infection happens when a person breathes in the small droplets of water from the steam and mist arising from a contaminated water source. The bacteria will live and grow in the lungs, leading to infection.

Legionnaires’ disease is potentially fatal, but it can be treated with antibiotics if proper and timely management of the infection is followed. It can pose serious risk to certain types of patients, including older adults, smokers, people with diabetes, cancer, kidney failure or any disease that weakens the immune system, people taking medications that affect the immune system and those with lung disease. Legionnaires’ disease does not spread from one person to another.

Protection tips

One way to protect yourself and your family from Legionella is to be discriminating when choosing hot tubs, swimming pools and other public bathing venues. Make sure the operators follow meticulous cleaning procedures that maintain correct disinfectant levels and proper pH balance in the water. Also, make it a habit to observe the quality of water first before going in. A properly maintained hot tub has no or little odor – beware of those with a strong chemical or chlorine smell that can be a result of incorrect maintenance systems. You should be able to hear the noise of pumps, filters and hot tub equipment that indicate that they are turned on and running. Lastly, check the side and tiles: they should feel squeaky-clean and not slippery or sticky.

Advanced protection

Operators of recreational water facilities and people with a hot tub at home are advised to invest in affordable and easy-to-use systems that screen water for Legionella bacteria. Should the test results come back positive, the test providers can also guide you on the fast and complete elimination of bacteria as well as long-term control and monitoring.

+Duncan Hollis