Increase in Legionnaires‘ disease prompts warning for New Zealand

Toi Te Ora Public Health, NZ is advising budding gardeners to take care this summer to avoid Legionnaires’ disease.

They say there has been an increase in cases in the region.

According to WorkSafe anyone who works with bagged or bulk organic material such as garden soil, compost, mulch, or potting mix is at risk of inhaling Legionella bacteria – which causes the illness Legionellosis, also known as Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionella is present in soil and soil products and can create serious infection when inhaled.

“We’ve recently seen an increase in the number of cases of this illness in our region,” advises medical officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health Dr Lynne Lane.

“If you are using packaged or home-made compost or soil products, be aware that the bacteria can be present.”

Legionnaires’ disease can vary in severity from a flu-like illness to severe pneumonia.  Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches and pains, shortness of breath and coughing.  Anyone who develops such symptoms within two to ten days after handling compost or potting mix should see their doctor without delay.  Legionnaires’ disease can be a serious illness requiring antibiotics and hospital treatment.

The disease is more common in older people, smokers, people with underlying lung disease and other long-term conditions such as diabetes.  Young, fit and healthy people are rarely affected.  The disease doesn’t spread from person to person.

“There are simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting Legionnaires’ disease,” says Dr Lane.

“When working with compost and potting mix, it’s important to take measures to avoid inhaling the dust.  Open potting mix by cutting rather than ripping the bag and open the bag away from your face.  Take care when turning compost and gardens, handling packaged products, and collecting or handling trailer loads from bulk suppliers.

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