Protect against Legionnaires

by Ann van Engelen

Cantabrians are being encouraged to protect themselves against Legionnaires’ disease this planting season by taking care with potting mix and compost.

As the days get longer and warmer, people are more inclined to head outside and get stuck into their gardens, and with this comes the increased risk of catching Legionnaires’.

Last year 48 hospitalisations from Legionnaires’ were recorded in Canterbury, and with 12 cases of the disease have been confirmed in the region since June this year.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey says Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia.

“It is caused by the Legionella bacteria that live in moist organic material, and people can catch the disease by inhaling airborne droplets or particles containing the bacteria.

“Gardeners are at particularly high risk as the bacteria thrive in bags of potting mix and compost. In Canterbury, there is typically a spike in cases in early November that can be attributed to the increased gardening activity over Labour weekend, and people need to take the necessary steps to avoid catching the disease.

“There are five simple actions gardeners should take to avoid getting Legionnaires’.

Open potting mix or compost carefully — use scissors instead of ripping the bag.

Wear a well-fitting disposable face mask and gloves, and remember not to touch your mask when gardening.

Reduce dust by dampening down potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water.

Work with potting mix or compost in a well-ventilated outdoor area.

Thoroughly wash your hands after handling potting mix or compost.

“Legionnaires’ is a very serious illness and following these simple steps can be lifesaving.”

The illness may be mild but is sometimes fatal. It is more common in older people, particularly if they smoke, have poor immunity or a chronic illness, however healthy young people have died from legionella pneumonia.

Symptoms can include dry coughing, high fever, chills, shortness of breath, muscle aches, headaches and diarrhoea.

If you have these symptoms, you should contact your general practice team right away, and let them know you have been handling potting mix or compost.