General Hot Springs Warnings

Serious injury and even death can and have occurred at hot springs. The most common dangers/warnings are listed below:
  • Alcohol consumption and dehydration in hot springs - drinking and soaking gets you wasted fast because hot springs dehydrate the body. Many have drown or fallen off a ledge while hiking due to mixing alcohol and hot springs together.
  • Soaking in the sun without replenishment - sun and hot springs can sap the juice right out of your body quickly; keep water, electrolyte drinks, sunscreen and sun protection handy.
  • Avoid visiting popular hot springs at the most popular times - I've heard horror story after horror story about how a newbie visited a popular hot springs on a Saturday afternoon and had a terrible time. Same goes for popular hot springs on weekend evenings. Fights, vehicle break-ins, vandalism and overcrowded pools are not just something people in Oregon and Washington have to worry about. Unfortunately, it happens all too often in Idaho too.
  • Acanthamoeba - an amoeba that is known to inhabit some hot springs which can enter the brain through nasal passages and cause meningitis. This is another reason to keep your head above water while soaking. Usually, hot springs with acanthamoeba are signed.
  • Snakes - this is generally not a concern, but a few hot springs feature nearby thermal vents that provide year-round habitat for snakes. If you leave them alone - they'll leave you alone.
  • Hunters - hunters like hot springs so much that they often (and illegally mind you) build tree-perches so that they can shoot deer and elk that graze on hot springs algae. Their illegal kills and hasty clean-ups can lead to animal parasites entering the water complex and any people that soak in it along with attracting scavengers. While I've encountered respectable hunters in Idaho, the bulk majority have discouraged me greatly. I've seen drunk hunters shooting out their truck window while barley being able to drive, coke-head hunting parties and idiot hunters so paranoid of the woods and bears that they randomly shoot off their guns throughout the night.
  • Adult Situations - that's right, unfortunately. For some reason, people think that popular hot springs are a good place to get their freak-on. Not such a great idea. And really, how would it feel to get busted by little Johnny or Suzy with their family in tow, or a dozen drunk hunters? Think about it.
  • Spring Runoff - even small creeks and rivers experience large undertows during spring runoff. Don't try to cross anything fast moving until spring runoff is over, which is usually around late June to early July depending on elevation. See Research Seasonal Barriers for more information.
  • Pets - soaking with Fido can be an enjoyable experience, but the majority of hot springs are NOT dog safe for a variety of reasons.
Related Links:

Hot Springs Etiquette from the Scenic Hot Springs Blog
Guide to Backcountry Hot Springs
Guide to Roadside Hot Springs


Rick said...

A little clarifying on Acanthamoeba, which, though ubiqitous throughout the environment including hot springs, is not nearly the villian that its cousin, Naegleria fowleri is. Both are Pathogenic Free-Living Amoebae however, Naegleria has been shown to favor the warmer temperatures that are commonly found in hot springs. Naegleria is commonly called the 'Bath Bug' from its' discovery in the springs of Bath, England, where it was impicated in several fatalities.

Both parasites can cause serious fatal meningitis and encephalitis. Acanthamoeba is mainly a threat to immunosuppressed individuals for whom the immune system in the blood stream does not destroy the parasite and it subsequently crosses the blood-brain barrier to cause a fatal form of granulomatious amoebic encephalitis or GAE. Acanthamoeba can also cause permanent blindness to the cornea of the eyes (it is a concern for contact lens wearers who do not scruplously disinfect their contacts between uses).

Naegleria, by contrast, loves hot water (thermophillic) and lives best at temperatures between 85F and 115F. Naegleria also cause a fatal form of meningitis (called Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis, or PAM), however Naegleria F. cannot pass the blood-brain barrier. The parasite MUST be forcibly inhaled into the nasal passages from where the amoebae can migrate via the cribriform plate, to directly infect the brain and meninges. PAM can infect healthy individuals as well as the immunosuppressed.

That said, quoting from an Army Manual on the subject:

PAM infection can only occur when a number of conditions occur at the same time:
a. The amoeba must be present in the water.
b. The amoeba must be able to multiply to large numbers. (Greater than 80 degrees water temperature instagnant, calm waters.)
c. Water containing the amoeba must get up the victims nose. (Water must be forcefully inhaled. The PAM infection can not result from swallowing water containing the pathogenic amoeba.)

PAM infection can be prevented by following a few common sense precautions:
a. Never swim in stagnant or polluted water. Stay in deeper more open areas of the lake.
b. Avoid underwater swimming and hold your nose or use nose plugs when jumping into natural waters.
c. Swim in properly maintained pools.

A properly maintained natural hot spring pool that has an adequate water turnover and fluidity movement (is not stagnant), is protected from bacterial and cyano-bacterial growth (the food for these amoebae) and where soakers preclude themselves from ducking their heads underwater and snorting the water, is unlikely to be a threat from these infections.

PavlovianDoggy said...

Yeah... what the above guy said. That guy is AWESOME.

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