A hot spring is a geothermal environment where heated water discharges at the surface of the earth. In layman’s terms, it’s where groundwater touches hot rock. It is important to note that this is not the same thing as a geyser—-a geyser has periodic releases of steam and the hot water will erupt from the surface.

Because of the high temperatures, there are some organisms present in hot springs and other geothermal environments. Because the optimal survival temperature for these microbes is at or near the boiling point of water, hot springs are breeding grounds for macrobiotic activity.

Pros of Hot Springs

Hot springs have been historically touted for their therapeutic and healing potential for everything from arthritis to bronchitis.

Cons of Hot Springs

Because it is only in hot springs and similar environments that humans might encounter certain microbes, people may be exposed to harmful and potentially fatal bacteria and organisms. Examples of these hot springs beasties include acanthamoeba, which can cause damage to the central nervous system and corneas; Legionella bacterium, which can cause legionellosis (respiratory and/or gastrointestinal problems); and Naegleria fowleri.

Macrobiotic Activity in the News

Naegleria fowleri specifically has been causing hoopla in US news lately, because as recently as October 1 of this year, Aaron Evans, the young boy who fell ill after swimming in Lake Havasu (which borders Arizona and California) died from amoebic meningoencephalitis (or an inflammation of the brain that destroys its tissue) that he contracted after swimming in Havasu’s Naegleria fowleri-infested waters. With Naegleria fowleri, the bacteria travels through the mucus membranes of the nose and is introduced to the brain; subsequently, a nose clip will prevent the water, thus the water’s microbes, from entering the nose and eventual fatal swelling of the brain and its membranes.

What You Can Do

Honestly, if you plan to visit hot springs, just check with local authorities to make sure that if there are any associated recreational water illnesses (RWIs), you either take necessary precautions (such as the aforementioned nose clip) to prevent infection, or if the prospect really bothers you, just pick another spot to soak.

For more information about RWIs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have great information about not only the illnesses themselves, but what you can do about them.


Wells, Annette. “Amoeba Infection That Killed Teen Noted.” Las Vegas Review- Journal 01 Oct 2007. Red Orbit. 08 Oct 2007 <http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1084542/amoeba_infection_that_killed_teen_noted/index.html?source=r_science>.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 2007. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 08 October 2007. <http://www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming/>.

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