From the start, a family I know was suspicious of the hot tub sanitation at the resort where they recently stayed. As time went by, even though the water looked clear, the hot tub seemed less chlorinated, and the water more tepid. They dubbed the tub “the scuz tub.” After their return, one of the kids broke out in the rash of hot tub folliculitis pictured to the left. You could say, they figured out just what the “scuz wuz”.
Hot tub folliculitis is a skin rash caused by a bacteria called pseudomonas aeruginosa. The rash appears a day or two after soaking in a hot tub. A light pink bump appears around hair follicles (hence the name). As you can see in this photo, the rash is typically worse on areas of skin where bacteria was trapped under a swimming suit. The rash can cover all body surfaces, including the face, if your child dunked his head under water.
The rash can be slightly itchy but is not usually painful. No other symptoms develop such as fever or sore throat. The rash is not contagious, but often other people who swam in the same hot tub also break out.
Treatment is to wait it out. Typically by one to two weeks, provided your child does not go back into the hot tub, the rash resolves on its own. If your child feels very itchy, you can treat her with oral diphenhydramine (brand name Benedryl). Rarely, just like mosquito bites, the rash can become infected with other bacteria if your child scratches too much.
Pseudomonas thrives in warm wet places. In fact, it’s the same bacteria that causes “swimmer’s ear.” Tight control of chlorine and acid content of the hot tub water limit the growth of the bacteria. Unfortunately, you can not tell the pseudomonas content of water just by eyeing it.
May you bring back a better souvenir than this family did on your next vacation.
Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2012 Two Peds in a Pod®