It’s relaxing to stretch out in a hot tub at a health club or spa. As the soothing, heated water caresses your skin, you close your eyes and let your cares melt away. Or do you? What about the viruses that could be swimming in the water you’re sharing with others – such as herpes? Can you catch herpes from a hot tub?
Can You Catch Herpes from a Hot Tub?
There’s good news if you’re addicted to soaking in public hot tubs. It’s unlikely you’ll get herpes from one. As long as a hot tub is well maintained and an adequate amount of chlorine is added to the water to kill viruses and bacteria, the herpes virus can’t survive for more than a few seconds. Even if the virus did survive the chlorinated water, it would have to enter the body through a break in the skin. The likelihood of the virus living long enough to make its way through an opening in your skin is astronomically low.
So why is the herpes virus so easily transmitted through sex? Because of the very close contact and the potential for tiny skin breaks and abrasions to allow easy transmission of the virus. Unless you “get frisky” with someone in a hot tub who has herpes, you’re unlikely to catch it this way.
On the Other Hand, Be Careful Where You Sit
It’s not likely you’ll catch herpes from a hot tub, but be aware of where you’re sitting after your soak. In one study published in JAMA, researchers found the herpes virus was destroyed by chlorinated water but could survive on plastic seats and benches in humid spas and health clubs for up to 4.5 hours. Despite the ability to survive under these humid conditions, the risk of transmission is still low unless you have an open cut or abrasion for the virus to enter your body.
Can You Get Herpes from a Hot Tub: The Bottom Line?
It’s unlikely you’ll get herpes from a soak, but take some precautions if you use public hot tubs. If you sit on a plastic bench, place a towel between you and the seat’s surface – and don’t get into a hot tub that’s not well maintained. If the chlorine concentration is too low, you could end up with a bacterial infection called hot tub rash, which is not pretty or pleasant.
If the hot tub has a strange smell or you see debris in the water, stay away. This could be a sign of bacterial contamination. You may not have to worry about herpes in the water, but you could end up with an itchy bacterial rash.
JAMA. 1983 Dec 9;250(22):3081-3.