Easter gardeners reminded of the dangers of potting-mix/compost

Thursday April 5, 2012

​Cantabrians are being reminded of the dangers of potting mix and compost when gardening this Easter weekend.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says Easter is a popular time to get the last of that Autumn planting and weeding done before winter sets in.

However, it can increase people's chances of being exposed to harmful bacteria legionella longbeachae, which can lead to Legionnaires' disease.

Dr Pink says it's important to remember prevention is always better than a cure and is easily done.

"Easter is often a time when the number of Legionnaires' cases can peak and this is usually associated with increased gardening activity and lower immunity levels with the change in season," Dr Pink says.

"It's important to follow the five simple steps when handing potting mix or compost to help reduce the risk of developing Legionnaires' disease."

The five simple steps are:

1.Open potting mix bags carefully using scissors, rather than ripping them.

2. Wear a disposable face mask and gloves and open the bag away from your face.

3. Do your potting in a well ventilated area outside.

4. Dampen down the potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water to stop the bacteria from becoming airborne.

5. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling potting mix and doing any gardening.

Symptoms of Legionnaires' 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 prompt advice from their General Practice Team or medical centre.

Extra facts about Legionnaires' disease:

  • This year there has been 15 cases of Legionnaires'. For the same period last year there were 22 cases. The total number recorded last year (2011) was 61 and 62 in 2010. The total number of deaths since 2010 has been seven – four (2010) and three (2011). No deaths this year
  • 2010 and 2011 saw a considerable increase on previous years and two thirds of the cases were legionella longbeachae, - the type associated with potting mix and compost
  • Some of the increased number of reported cases appears to be a result of more sensitive testing that is able to detect milder cases of Legionnaires from the many cases of community acquired pneumonia that present every year
  • Detecting cases early means people are able to be treated sooner and in the long run this should lead to a lower mortality from this disease
  • Risk factors for contracting Legionnaires' disease include being over 50 years of age and having a long-term illness – particularly lung disease, being a smoker or having low immunity
  • More than 90 percent of the cases were people of European ethnicity
  • Look out for the information stands on Legionnaires' disease available at selected garden centres.
Page last reviewed: 24 July 2013