Media Release - 3/12/10
Gardeners are being warned to take care when handling potting mix and compost this summer with 10 cases of Legionnaires’ disease being notified last month.
The warning comes from the Canterbury District Health Board’s Community and Public Health following the death last week of an elderly woman from the pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria commonly found in water and soils – including potting mix.
While it is unknown what specific legionella caused the death, Canterbury Medial Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says since September three people have been admitted to Christchurch Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit with legionella.
“Recent cases are a reminder of the potential risk of getting Legionnaires’ disease, particularly from potting mix/compost and gardening. It is important to take care to avoid inhaling the dust when opening the bag and handling the contents,” he says.
“Bags should be carefully opened using scissors and not ripped open, in a well ventilated area, preferably outdoors and away from the face. A disposable dust mask is recommended when handling potting mix or compost. Dampening down the mix with gentle watering is advised. Also make sure that you always wash your hands after handling potting mix and doing any gardening.
“November is typically the worst month for notifications of the disease.”
A total of 38 cases of the disease have been notified in Canterbury and 156 nationally this year. This is an increase in the number of cases on previous years but it may be because of more accurate tests being done on patients presenting with symptoms, Dr Pink says.
Risk factors for contracting Legionnaires’ disease include being over 50 years of age, having a long-term illness – particularly lung disease, being a smoker or having low immunity. Symptoms of the disease may include dry coughing, high fever, chills, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Anyone with these symptoms who has been handling potting mix or compost recently should seek advice from their General Practitioner promptly.