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Avoiding a Legionnaires’ Spring Spike

Tuesday 23 October 2018Health news2 minutes to read

Reduce the risk of legionnaires' disease by protecting your hands while touching compost.

Reduce the risk of legionnaires' disease by protecting your hands while touching compost.

West Coast gardeners are being urged to take care with potting mix and compost to prevent a spike in Legionnaires’ cases this spring. 

West Coast Medical Officer of Health Dr Cheryl Brunton says that up to four West Coast gardeners are diagnosed with Legionnaires’ each year. She is warning gardeners to take care with bagged potting mix and compost to avoid the life-threatening disease. 

“Gardeners are at particularly high risk of catching Legionnaires' disease as the bacteria thrives in bags of potting mix and compost,” says Dr Brunton.

Dr Brunton says there are five simple actions gardeners should do to avoid getting legionnaires’:

  1. Open potting mix or compost carefully – use scissors instead of ripping the bag.
  2. Wear a well-fitting disposable face mask and gloves, and remember not to touch your mask when gardening.
  3. Reduce dust by dampening down potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water.
  4. Work with potting mix or compost in a well-ventilated outdoor area.
  5. Thoroughly wash your hands after handling potting mix or compost. 

“Legionnaires’ is a very serious illness and these simple actions can be lifesaving. It has an incubation period of up to two weeks and the majority of cases on the Coast occur during the peak gardening season from October to April”.

With the average cost of treating someone with an infectious disease in ICU estimated at close to $5,000 per day, Dr Brunton says Legionnaires’ is costing our health system hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“With NIWA predicting another warm spring and summer, it’s extremely important to take care when using bagged potting mix and compost.”

The illness may be mild but can sometimes be fatal. It is more common in older people, particularly if they smoke, have poor immunity or a chronic illness.  Symptoms include dry coughing, high fever, chills, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Anyone who gets these symptoms should see their general practice team right away and let them know if you have been handling potting mix or compost.

For more information on Legionnaires’, visit:  



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