Gardeners in NSW have been urged to wear face masks and gloves when handling potting mix and compost to avoid contact with legionnaires’ disease.
Most important points:
- There have been 96 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in NSW this year from potting soil and soil
- Gardeners have been urged to wash their hands, even if they’ve been wearing gloves
- Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, and muscle aches
The warning comes after a woman in her 60s from Sydney died of the disease last week after handling potting mix.
NSW Health said there were 96 cases of Legionnaires’ disease this year due to the type of bacteria that can be found in potting soil and soil.
NSW Health director Jeremy McAnulty urged gardeners to wear masks and gloves when handling potting soil.
“Most people who breathe in the bacteria don’t get sick, but the risk of infection increases if you’re older, smoke or have a weakened immune system,” said Dr McAnulty.
“Wetting the potting mix first also prevents contaminated potting mix dust from being blown into the air and inhaled.
“Even if you’ve been wearing gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating or drinking because the bacteria could still be there.”
Legionella longbeachae bacteria are commonly found in potting soil and can cause Legionnaires’ disease if a person inhales dust from contaminated soil.
NSW Health said Legionnaires’ disease symptoms can develop up to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite and diarrhea.
Harriet Whiley, an associate professor of environmental health at Flinders University, stressed the importance of wearing a mask when using potting soil.
“Leionnaires’ disease is not transmitted from person to person, but by inhalation or aspiration of the legionella bacteria,” said Dr Whiley.
“That’s why it’s important to wear a mask, wet the soil, and wear gloves/wash hands when handling potting mix.”
A more common source of Legionnaires’ disease is due to a different strain of bacteria, most commonly found in contaminated air conditioning refrigeration systems in large buildings.
In May this year, five people were hospitalized after contracting Legionnaires’ disease after visiting Sydney’s CBD.
Health authorities suspected that contaminated cooling towers were spreading the harmful infection.