Protect yourself against Legionnaires’ disease

The warmer months are the perfect time to be out in the garden. It’s also unfortunately the time when gardeners are most at risk of catching Legionnaires’ disease from bags or bulk loads of potting mix and compost.

Gardeners are being urged to take care with potting mix and compost – with 32 cases of the disease already confirmed in the region this year.

Gardeners are being encouraged to gear up against Legionnaires' disease.Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Matt Reid, says 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 breathing in airborne droplets or particles containing the bacteria.

“Gardeners are at particularly high risk of catching Legionnaires’ disease as the bacteria thrive in potting mix and compost,” says Dr Reid.

In Canterbury there is typically a spike in cases in spring that can be attributed to increased gardening activity and good weather. Now is the time for people to make sure they are taking the necessary steps to avoid catching the disease.

There are some simple actions gardeners should take to avoid getting Legionnaires’ disease:

  1. Always work outside. Find a well-ventilated outdoor area and preferably with light winds.
  2. Wear a well-fitting face mask. An N95 or respirator is best.
  3. Wear gloves when handling potting mix or compost.
  4. Cut – don’t rip. Carefully open bags of compost or potting mix with scissors and away from your face.
  5. Compost dry? Damp it down. This will reduce dust.
  6. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Do this after handling potting mix or compost and before touching your face or removing your mask.

“Legionnaires’ disease is a very serious illness and following these simple steps can be lifesaving,” says Dr Matt Reid.

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, even healthy young people 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 has these symptoms should see their general practice team immediately for advice, and let them know they have been handling potting mix or compost recently.

Published on Wednesday, September 20th, 2023, under News
Page last updated: 20/09/2023

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