4 Ways Your Hotel Can Make You Sick & How to Protect Yourself

Locations in this article:  Chicago, IL

Often times when you arrive at a hotel it’s after a long day of travel and weeks–if not months–of planning, research, and anticipation. The last thing you want to think about is whether or not your hotel is bad for your health. But recent news headlines have some travelers worried about whether their hotel is safe. Here’s what to watch out for and how to protect yourself.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

You might be surprised to learn that 27 states require CO detectors in all new homes, but few states require hotels to install them. This lack of regulation has lead to recent fatalities in North Carolina.

At a Best Western Hotel in Boone, North Carolina, carbon monoxide poisoning is being blamed for the death of an 11-year-old boy. Reports say the boy stayed in a second-floor room located directly above a room that houses the natural gas heater for the pool. The room containing the pool heater didn’t have the proper ventilation required to pass safety laws. The hotel’s major mistake caused carbon monoxide to accumulate in the boy’s room and ultimately cost him his life. Even worse, the boy’s death was not the first to occur in the hotel. Not long before the incident, a couple in their 70s stayed in that very same room and died of the same cause.

CO-incidents are rare, making them hard to foresee. But you can come prepared. Travel CO-detectors are on the market. They’re small, portable and reasonable priced. You should also know the signs. It’s impossible to smell, see, or taste, a toxic CO buildup.  Check hard surfaces for unusually large accumulations of condensation, beware of fires you don’t see smoking. And if you see yourself or others starting to experience a variety of flu-like symptoms (nausea, dizziness and headaches) seek medical attention immediately.

Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ Disease is commonly associated with cruise ships, but hotels are not immune. In August 2012, there was a fatal Legionnaires’ outbreak at the JW Marriott Hotel in Chicago. Several of the hotel’s water sources tested positive for the same species of Legionella found in the outbreak’s 10 victims, three of whom died.

According to the health department, the bacteria are only present at low levels in most water systems. However, when proper water quality is not maintained for even a short period of time, as in the case of the Chicago hotel, the bacteria can thrive and put people’s health at risk.

Given that Legionnaires’ is spread environmentally it’s harder to protect yourself. Discovery Health recommends, taking  a look at the showers in gym or whirlpool, if the faucets are dirty, it’s a sign to be careful. Also, ask the staff how often the air-conditioning system is cleaned (twice yearly is the norm).

Food Poisoning

An incident at the Intercontinental Hotel in Singapore involved multiple cases of suspected food poisoning related to the hotel’s Man Fu Yuan restaurant. The restaurant provided Chinese banquet meals for five functions held in late December 2012 that complained about food poisoning. In total, there were 200 individual cases reported.

The Ministry of Health and National Environmental Agency investigated the five incidents and shut down the Man Fu Yuan restaurant until it can be established that the restaurant no longer poses health risks to hotel guests and the public.

Back in 2003, guests at a Doubletree Hotel in Colorado contracted shigella, due to contaminated melon served at the breakfast buffet. Shigella is an infectious gastrointestinal disease caused by bacteria and usually clears up in 5 to 7 days. Several people were affected, including a group of World War II veterans, a wedding party and hotel staff.

More hotels and cruise ships are eliminating self-serve options in favor of staffed buffets, to reduce the number of people handling the same utensils. Avoid raw seafood unless you can confirm how long it’s been sitting out. Make sure hot food is truly hot, as lukewarm temperatures can cause bacteria to thrive.

Germs in the Room

Then there’s the fear of every traveler…how dirty is your hotel room? Bedspreads, remote controls, even the water glasses and ice buckets are not cleaned as often as most people would like.

Protect yourself with antibacterial wipes, which you can use to wipe down the remote control, doorknobs, faucet handles, and the phone. Wash water glasses with hot water for at least two minutes (or just skip using them altogether).

As for that bedspread? Take it off the bed, toss it in the corner, and never look at it again.

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By Katharine Rooney for PeterGreenberg.com.