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Protect yourself against Legionnaires’ this spring

Wednesday 28 October 2020Health news2 minutes to read

Spring is the perfect time to be out in the garden. It’s also the perfect time for enthusiastic gardeners to risk unwittingly releasing Legionnaires’ disease from the depths of their potting mix and compost.

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.

“Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia. It’s caused by the Legionella bacteria that live in moist organic material and people can catch the disease by inhaling airborne droplets or particles containing the bacteria.”

“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. Wear a well-fitting disposable face mask and gloves before you begin gardening
  2. Open potting mix or compost carefully by using scissors to cut off the top.
  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. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling potting mix or compost and before touching your face or removing your mask.

“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,” says Dr Brunton.

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. However, sometimes even healthy young people have died from legionella pneumonia.

Symptoms can include dry coughing, high fever, chills, shortness of breath, muscle aches, headaches and diarrhoea. If you have these symptoms, you should contact your general practice team right away for advice and let them know you if have been handling potting mix or compost.

For more information on Legionnaires’, visit: https://www.healthinfo.org.nz/index.htm?Legionnaires-disease-legionellosis.htm

ENDS

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Page last updated: 28 October 2020

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