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Am J Public Health. 1991 Aug;81(8):1034-7.

The health hazards of saunas and spas and how to minimize them.

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Oregon Health Sciences University, School of Medicine, Portland.



The rapidly increasing number of spas, hot tubs, and saunas intensifies the potentials for deaths from hyperthermia and drowning.


I analyzed 54 such deaths reported to me by 55 medical examiners and coroners in the United States and 104 deaths reported to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).


Only seven of the 158 deaths analyzed occurred in saunas. All of the remaining deaths occurred in spas, jacuzzis, or hot tubs, which were far more numerous. The chief risk factors identified were alcohol ingestion, heart disease, seizure disorders, and cocaine ingestion (alone or in combination with alcohol ingestion). These factors accounted for 71 or 44.7% of the 159 fatalities. Of these risk factors, alcohol represented 38%; heart disease, 31%; seizure disorders, 17%; and cocaine ingestion, alone or in combination with alcohol, 14%. Sixty-one of the 151 spa-associated deaths occurred in children under 12 years of age. Accidental drownings from uncovered or improperly covered spas and, to a lesser extent, entrapment by suction, were the chief causes of childhood drownings.


Children and older persons who have heart disease or seizure disorders or who use alcohol or cocaine are especially vulnerable. Recommended preventive measures include shortening the time of exposure, lowering the temperature, establishing safety standards for covers and for baffles for suction outlets, and using warning notices.

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