Web Zap*Germs Archive

May 20, 2005

Legionnaires' Disease in Hot Tub Kills Man; Other "Hot Tub Lung" Bacteria Pose a Threat

A Virginia man has died of Legionnaire's disease (Legionella pneumophila bacteria) that has been traced to the hot tub that he and other family members soaked in while on holiday at a rental home in Nags Head, NC. Three other family members have also been sick. (More detail here.)
Update 25 May 2005: Though Legionnaire's killed this unfortunate man, doctors have identified "Hot Tub Lung" as a malady, often caused by Mycobacterium avium bacteria. An article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings discussing HTL cases closes with this advisory:
An estimated 340,000 new hot tubs were sold in the United States in 1998, and it is highly likely that this number has increased. We recommend that physicians maintain a high index of suspicion for hot tub lung and include questions about hot tub use in their routine review of symptoms in patients with respiratory problems.
Hot tubs and whirlpool spas have long been known to harbor and spread dangerous bacteria like Legionnaire's, staph, pseudomonas and others. That's because the tubs usually have warm water circulating in them for days at a time. When people soak in them, dirt, skin, hair and other gunk (use your imagination) sloughs off into the water.

Even when drained, the piping in most brands of tubs never completely eliminates all the water, and bacteria and fungi are free to multiply until the next person soaks. In addition to spreading through the water, germs are in the mist that fills the air when the tubs' jets are turned on, and are breathed in by the bathers.

A quick Google search located a company called PurgeTech that sells products they claim will disinfect ordinary whirlpool baths.

An article in Infection Control Today (title: "Relaxing in Filth") names only two companies that don't use pipes in their tubs:
  • Arjo's hydrosound tubs make ultrasound waves (for healthcare use)
  • Sanijet makes pipeless whirlpool baths (for home use) with individual jets that can be removed and cleaned by hand.

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