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Lawyer Blog: Baltimore, MD

Hot Tub Infections A Hot Topic


Maybe you’re one of those folks who have tickets to board a cruise ship in Baltimore to escape the chilly days of winter in the Northeast. We couldn’t blame you for wanting to sail to a hotter climate, but if you spend part of that cruise sitting in a hot tub, you may come back with more than cheap souvenirs.

The concern about health problems arising from the use of cruise ship hot tubs is nothing new. Back in 1994, a Legionnaires Disease outbreak aboard a Celebrity Cruise ship killed one passenger and sickened 50 others. Legionella bacteria was found in a filter that recirculated water for the ship’s three spas.

More recently, on October 24, 2014, a Maryland man filed a complaint in federal court in Miami alleging that he developed a serious skin infection after using the hot tub on a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean last November. Charles Atwell alleges bacteria in the hot tub were responsible for a large and painful abscess which had to be surgically treated and drained. The suit alleges a pattern of bacterial infection in Carnival hot tubs and negligence on the part of the cruise company.

The Carnival cruise line also faced a 2012 lawsuit from passengers who allegedly got rashes, cellulitis, staphylococcus aureus and MRSA infections from using a ship’s hot tub. One of the plaintiffs claims he contracted “hot tub folliculitis” which nearly cost him his leg. The leg was saved, but at a cost of $70,000 and with permanent scarring. This group of plaintiffs sought class action certification, but the judge denied it in July of 2014 and said that individual passengers can pursue their own claims in court. Carnival later settled with these plaintiffs.

Of course, Carnival defends itself against allegations of negligence, stating through a spokesman that “Carnival’s shipboard whirlpools are properly sanitized, operated, and maintained pursuant to specifications that are above and beyond the industry’s standards.”

What are the industry standards? While we’re not sure what the Carnival spokesman was referencing, these are the guidelines given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • The free chlorine level in hot tubs should be 2-4 parts per million (ppm) and the bromine level at 4-6 ppm.
  • The pH level in a hot tub should be 7.2 to 7.8.

The CDC also recommends that any hot tub user should pose these questions to the owner/operator of any publicly used hot tub:

    • What was the most recent health inspection score for the hot tub?
    • Are disinfectant and pH levels checked at least twice per day?
    • Are disinfectant and pH levels checked more often when the hot tub is being used by a lot of people?
    • Are the following maintenance activities performed regularly:
    • Removal of the slime or biofilm layer by scrubbing and cleaning?
    • Replacement of the hot tub water filter according to manufacturer’s recommendations?
    • Replacement of hot tub water?

If you or someone you love developed a serious skin infection or respiratory illness after using a hot tub on a cruise ship, at a gym or spa facility, or in a hotel, contact the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler to discuss whether you might be wise to seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Steve also has represented the victims of Legionnaire’s Disease (see information and case results here) and will be glad to put his prior experience to work for you. You can reach us at (410) 625-4878.