A slew of recent herpes outbreaks among CSU students have been linked by campus doctors to visits at “local hookah bars,” a Collegian investigation found.
Many students who recently visited the university’s health clinic to be treated for herpes symptoms said they had recently smoked hookah, a tobacco water pipe with which students share hoses to inhale smoke, at a local hookah bar, said Jane Higgins, a doctor with Hartshorn Health Services.
The nurse practitioner who personally examined the students was unavailable for comment, but Higgins said several students mentioned they had made their first visit to a local hookah bar a couple of weeks before the students were diagnosed.
Both Fort Collins hookah bars, Algiers, at 120 1/2 B Laurel Street, and Narghile Nights, at 621 College Avenue, told the Collegian their businesses never heard of any problems with the disease. They said their standards for cleaning hookahs are adequate to prevent the spread of disease.
But the Larimer County Department of Health does not inspect hookah bars for health issues.
Because hookah bars are considered tobacco retail businesses and not restaurants, health inspections and legal standards for hookah sanitation are non-existent, so it is the respective businesses’
prerogative to keep hookahs clean and safe for customers.
“There are not very many regulations for hookah bars,” said Jeffe Perkins, a manager at Algiers. “We have to step it up ourselves. We do that by cleaning hookahs every time they are used.”
Aria Khosravi, co-owner of Narghile Nights, said although he has heard of herpes incidents at other establishments, none have come from his.
“That is the last thing we would want to happen,” Khosravi said. “We don’t want to mess around. We clean out all the hoses every night . and we also vacuum them through.
“Have I heard of this happening to places? Yeah, possibly. Nothing came from our location.”
Perkins said Algiers has never had a problem with customers getting sick either but does see how sharing mouthpieces can pose a concern.
“I’m always worried about the exchange of saliva,” he said.
Susanne Murray of the Larimer County Communicable Disease Center said multiple factors put hookah users at greater risk of transmitting disease.
“More saliva is generated just putting smoke into your mouth,” Murray said. “They suck (the mouthpiece) for quite a while and pass it to the next person.
“I think hookah would be more risk because of longer term exposure,” Murray added. “It is more about the action of what people do.”
Murray said unusual clusters of cases are something the disease center would investigate, but that businesses are not required to report herpes.
“Herpes is not an illness that is life threatening,” Murray said. “It’s more of a public nuisance. Reporting a cold sore would not be something we would investigate.”
Beth Sowder, neighborhood services manager for the City of Fort Collins, said it would be up to the Larimer County Department of Health to implement health inspections.
The city’s main concerns are staying in line with the smoking code and sales and capacity restrictions.
“The only thing we really enforce is what the smoking code says itself,” Sowder said.
Khosravi said even with increased health regulations, faulting the business for the health problem would be unfair because customers have to be held accountable for their sharing of mouthpieces.
“You can’t be liable for every person that comes into your establishment,” Khosravi said. “The customers have to have some responsibility.
“I think mouth tips are a great idea but I think any further regulation would be subjective,” he added.
Both local hookah bars use mouth tips to limit the possibility of spreading sickness and disease.
But hookah bars are not required to use the tips.
Realizing the inconsistent health standards hookah businesses make for themselves, some point to health regulation as a needed step, but some specialists say it’s difficult to identify a specific culprit spreading the disease.
Carole Diamond, a nurse practitioner at Hartshorn Health Center, said by the time people have a breakout of herpes, they would most likely have had contact with too many other surfaces that breed disease to be able to identify hookah as the cause.
“It’s going to be hard to find someone that says, ‘Yes, I got it from hookah,'” she said.