Gardeners urged to protect themselves against Legionnaires’ disease

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.

Gardeners are being urged to take care with potting mix and compost – with 23 cases of the disease already confirmed in Canterbury this year. Last year there were 39 hospitalisations from Legionnaires’ in Canterbury. Up to four West Coast gardeners are diagnosed with Legionnaires’ each year.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia.

“It’s caused by the Legionella bacteria that live in moist organic material. 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 Pink.

There is typically a spike in cases in early November that can be attributed to the increased gardening activity from Labour Weekend onwards. Now is the time for people to take the necessary steps to avoid catching the disease.

Cantabrians are being encouraged to protect themselves against Legionnaires' this planting season.

Five simple steps to avoid Legionnaire’s disease from potting mix or compost

It is important that gardeners follow these five simple steps to avoid catching Legionnaires’ disease from potting mix or compost:

  1. Open bags of compost or potting mix carefully – use scissors instead of ripping the bag
  2. Wear a well-fitting disposable face mask and gloves. Remember not to touch your mask while gardening.
  3. Dampen down the potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water to reduce dust.
  4. Work with potting mix or compost in a well-ventilated area outside.
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling potting mix or compost, or doing any gardening.

“Legionnaires’ is a very serious illness and these simple actions can be lifesaving” says Dr Pink.

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 healthy young people sometimes have died from legionella pneumonia.

Symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease to look out for

Symptoms of the disease can include:

  • dry coughing;
  • high fever;
  • chills;
  • shortness of breath;
  • muscle aches;
  • headaches; and
  • diarrhoea.

Anyone who gets these symptoms should see their general practice team immediately for advice, and let them know they have been handling potting mix or compost recently.

Canterbury and West Coast DHBs media release: 22nd October 2020.

Published on Monday, August 10th, 2020, under Uncategorised
Page last updated: 16/12/2020

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