Legionnaire's Season

Tuesday October 3, 2017

It's gardening season in the garden city – time to reach for the spade, the wheelbarrow, the gloves, the face mask and the handwash! 

Canterbury has the country's highest incidence rates of potentially-fatal Legionnaire's disease, while New Zealand has the highest reported incidence of the disease in the world.  

Contact with compost and potting mix is a main contributor - that's where the Legionella longbeachae bacteria can lurk, putting at risk gardeners who inhale the dust.

Even using unwashed hands to remove a mask can be enough to become infected.  

"It's a timely reminder to our community that hand washing immediately after gardening is very important in protecting against Legionnaire's disease," says Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ramon Pink.

"Reducing the risk of becoming infected is vital as more of us get out into our gardens with the longer days and warmer weather".

A recent CDHB-funded study of the disease by University of Otago researchers found that gardeners washing their hands immediately after use protected against the disease, by minimising exposure of the bacteria to the face.

Legionnaire's causes a form of pneumonia, and the report also recommends long term smokers and those with cardiac or respiratory conditions take particular care of their hygiene during and after gardening.

In the last 12 months, 271 cases have been notified nationwide, 49 of those in Canterbury.

Of the patients that are hospitalised with the disease, 30% require intensive care unit admission. 

Symptoms include dry coughing, high fever, chills, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

 So how can you minimise the risk?

 There are five simple steps for gardeners to follow when using compost or potting mix.

  • Open bag carefully – use scissors instead of ripping the bags

  • Wear a disposable face mask and gloves, and open the bag away from your face

  • Do your potting in a well-ventilated area outdoors

  • To reduce dust dampen down the potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water

  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling potting mix or gardening

 

Page last reviewed: 03 October 2017
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