Legionnaires' season arrives

Wednesday September 30, 2015

​The start of October is the beginning of Canterbury's legionnaires' season. 

In October every year the number of people with Legionnaires' disease begins to climb. Numbers peak in November and December, remain relatively high through January and February, and then taper off in March.

Dr Ramon Pink, Canterbury medical officer of health, says the seasonal surge is mostly linked to gardeners catching Legionnaires' disease from potting mix or compost.

"After a long winter it's great getting back into the garden and enjoying the warmer weather and longer days, but please make sure you avoid inhaling the dust from potting mix or compost as this can be dangerous," 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.

Dr Pink says legionella longbeachae, the type of Legionnaires' disease associated with potting mix, can be very serious, and even fatal.

"Of the 41 people been diagnosed with legionella longbeachae in Canterbury since September 2013, 35 have been hospitalised."​

Anyone can catch Legionnaires' but people over 50 years of age, those with a long-term illness, particularly lung disease, people with low immunity, and smokers are most vulnerable.

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

Anyone who gets these symptoms should see their general practice team immediately, and let them know they have been handling potting mix or compost recently.

Page last reviewed: 30 September 2015
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