WHIRLPOOL SPA BATHS – HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY ARE CLEAN?
A patient is being prepared for a hydrotherapy treatment. The tub is cleaned and immediately filled with bath water. Amicrobiologist tests confirms that both tub and water are clean. The patient is prepared to step into the tub when the microbiologist reveals a small vial and explains, “This vial is filled with a mixture of pathogenic bacteria. I am going to add it to the water in the tub. I don’t know whether you will be infected by these bacteria or not, but I want to make you aware of its presence. Now you can proceed and take your bath.”
If you were the patient, would you enter the tub? This question has been posed to infection control practitioners, consumers, interior designers, builders, hospital managers and others, and not one person has stated a willingness to bath under the conditions described above. This water sample was taken from a piped whirlpool spa bath in a labor and delivery room of a major medical facility in Denver, CO.
Whirlpool spa baths are common items in hospital labor and delivery facilities. Should women and their babies be unknowingly exposed to bacteria in piped or spa baths?
Hotels typically offer whirlpool spa baths in guest rooms and luxury suites. Should guests be forced to bathe in bath water containing residue from previous guests?
In testing conducted by Texas A&M University, 100% of water samples taken from piped and air spa baths from locations throughout the United States tested positive with high concentrations of infectious bacteria.
In whirlpool spa baths, hydrotherapy pools, etc., small quantities of human body fat, hair,
feces, urine, pus, saliva, blood, semen and other body fl uids, including many bacteria and viruses, are pumped through the system on a regular basis. The problem is that you cannot visually see the areas where these contaminants are accumulating. It is even more important to be regularly treating the internal surfaces of these baths than the exterior surfaces. (Surprisingly, many facilities that have hydrotherapy pools/whirlpool spa baths still only clean the bath itself, and do not treat the pipes and pumps.)
The photos below show what untreated internal piping looks like.
SpaKleen has been asked to clean the whirlpool spa baths of several hotels where patrons have sued the hotel after picking up an infection from the whirlpool spa bath. When we find a dirty whirlpool spa bath, we clean the bath with SpaKleen, a proprietary spa bath cleaner and deodorizer.
Historically, the cleaning of baths usually decreases over time. This is due to the mindset of “If it looks clean, it must be clean,” which is how most cleaning staffs appraise how clean the baths are, rather than understanding that build up occurs in the pump and pipes, away from view. Although it is not generally reported, people are infected from hotel whirlpool spa baths on a regular basis, usually with pseudomonas or staph aureus-related dermatitis. Now that hotels are being sued for this lack of action, they are beginning to clean up their spas on a more regular basis.
Similarly, the problem with hydrotherapy baths is that there is no way of telling if the cleaning and disinfection process is working other than by taking bacterial tests. If we are running the environmental cleaning program on risk-based assessment, then we should be flagging hydro tubs as higher risk than floors or bathrooms, meaning surveillance needs to be greater.
It has always been our recommendation that bacterial testing of baths be done at least once every three months, and always if there is a change in product or procedure. As a result of our research, we found that SpaKleen achieves a high level of cleaning, and we have been able to recommend to our clients they only need to culture once per year if using this product.