If You See This in a Hot Tub, Don't Go In, Experts Say

Don't let this hazard put your health at risk.

With the days balmy and the nights still cool and breezy in many parts of the U.S., countless homes and recreational facilities are turning on their pools and hot tubs once again, preparing for friends and customers eager to take a soak. However, before you so much as stick your toe in the water, there's a serious hot tub danger that experts want you to avoid. Read on to discover what signs say you're better off postponing that relaxing dip.

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If the tub is emitting too much steam, don't get in.

steamy hot tub

All hot tubs are likely to emit some steam, especially when they're significantly warmer than the air outside. However, if the hot tub you're about to get into is surrounded by a significant amount of steam, you may want to reconsider getting in.

"Steam water is the origin of bacterial diseases like diarrhea and Legionnaires'," says Brandon O'Malley, owner of The Sauna Company. "Most of these diseases are caused by inhaling the contaminated steam of the hot water," O'Malley explains.

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Legionella bacteria exposure can lead to serious health risks.

woman sitting in hot tub
Shutterstock / DGLimages

When inhaled, Legionella bacteria in hot tubs can lead to both Legionnaires' disease and Pontiac Fever, two serious lung infections.

Legionnaires' disease is a type of serious pneumonia that can lead to confusion, cough, diarrhea, fever, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of Legionnaires' typically show up between 2 and 10 days after exposure to Legionella. Pontiac Fever tends to be a milder lung infection, symptoms of which typically occur within three days of exposure to Legionella; the symptoms, which usually include muscle aches and fever, typically last under a week. If you developed any of the aforementioned symptoms and have recently been in or near a hot tub, contact a medical professional.

Certain groups are more likely to become seriously ill than others.

older woman sitting down and having breathing trouble

While Legionnaires' disease and Pontiac Fever can lead to serious health complications, the CDC says that healthy people typically don't become ill when exposed to Legionella. However, current or former smokers, individuals with chronic lung health issues, people with cancer, immunocompromised individuals, people 50 and older, and those with chronic illnesses including kidney failure, liver failure, or diabetes, are at greater risk of complications from Legionella exposure.

Even walking close to a contaminated tub emitting steam can put you at risk.

woman in white robe standing near hot tub
Shutterstock / FOTOGRIN

Even if you don't actually soak in the hot tub, you may still be at risk for contracting Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac Fever.

According to a 2020 report published by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), 135 people developed Legionnaires' disease and one person came down with Pontiac Fever after attending the NC Mountain State Fair in 2019. In total, 96 people were hospitalized due to the outbreak and four died. Following an investigation, all of the illnesses were traced back to hot tubs on display that released aerosolized water, which was subsequently breathed in by fair attendees.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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