October is the start of Legionnaires’ season
Cantabrians are being urged to follow some simple steps in order to avoid getting a serious illness linked to gardening.
Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Daniel Williams says October corresponds with the beginning of Canterbury’s Legionnaires’ season.
“In October every year the number of people with Legionnaires’ disease begins to climb. Numbers peak in November and December, remain relatively high through January and February, and then taper off in March,” Dr Williams says.
He says the seasonal surge is mostly linked to gardeners catching Legionnaires’ disease from potting mix or compost. “After a long winter it’s great getting back into the garden and enjoying the warmer weather and longer days, but please make sure you avoid inhaling the dust from potting mix or compost as this can be dangerous.”
Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia. It’s caused by bacteria called Legionella that lives in warm, moist conditions. “You can catch the disease by inhaling airborne droplets or particles containing the bacteria,” Dr Williams says.
“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 of Legionnaire’s disease to look out for
Symptoms of the disease may include:
- dry coughing
- high fever
- shortness of breath
- chest pains
- excessive sweating
- vomiting, and
- abdominal pain.
Anyone who gets these symptoms should see their general practice team immediately, and let them know they have been handling potting mix or compost recently.
Five simple steps to avoid Legionnaire’s disease from potting mix or compost
Gardeners are at particular risk of catching Legionnaires’ disease as the Legionella bacteria can be present in potting mix and compost.
It is important that gardeners follow five simple steps to avoid catching Legionnaires’ disease from potting mix or compost:
- Open potting mix bags carefully using scissors, rather than ripping them.
- Wear a disposable face mask and gloves and open the bag away from your face.
- Do your potting in a well-ventilated area outside.
- Dampen down the potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water to stop the bacteria from becoming airborne.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after handling potting mix and doing any gardening.