In hot water

Friday, March 26, 2010

Question

I recently started working in a massage parlour that features a room with a jacuzzi in it. It's rare that clients choose this feature, but when they do we are of course expected to enjoy it naked together in fairly close proximity.

I don't offer complete service and am careful to keep my skin-to-skin contact genital-free.

I'm wondering what other precautions I should be taking to avoid the transmission of STIs through this activity. I had the impression that hot-tub transmission was a myth, but my research is turning up mixed. We don't chlorinate. Should we?

A

Answer

"I remember being shocked at a lecture on STIs when the doc said his kid got molluscum contagiosum from a hot tub," says Lyba Spring from Toronto Public Health. "It's just a skin infection, but can take a while to clear up. It's the same treatment as for HPV warts."

I can attest to how pesky molluscum can be; I got it from the pole at work myself. All I remember thinking was, "Mollusks?! I have mollusks?!" It gives you an odd sense of how much of the body is made up of water when you can cultivate, like, oysters on your inner thighs.

"A propos her skin-to-skin contact being genital free, is there any contact in the boxer shorts area?" asks Spring. "If there is, she is at risk for the herpes virus and the human papillomavirus that can lead to warts." Spring also suggests looking at a PDF file from TPH about intimate shaving, which can also put you at risk [PDF].

What I get from the hot-tub transmission as myth thing is that it's rare or exceptional to get it from the hot tub itself. Rubbing against someone in said hot tub, chlorinated or not, seems to pose the greatest concern.

"I have not read anywhere that HPV can be transmitted in a hot tub without skin contact—only molluscum contagiosum," says Spring. "I agree with you that skin-to-skin contact in the 'boxer shorts' area can transmit HSV or HPV. We learned that chlorine cannot kill hep C, so we stopped recommending using bleach to clean needles and works many years ago. So if she is rubbing up against her clients, my feeling, not based in research, is that she is at risk, in or out of the tub."