Cantabrians urged to protect themselves against Legionnaires’ this spring

Friday 25 October 2019Media release3 minutes to read

With labour weekend upon us, Cantabrians are being encouraged to protect themselves against legionnaires' this planting season

With labour weekend upon us, Cantabrians are being encouraged to protect themselves against legionnaires' this planting season

At this time of year as the sun starts to make more of an appearance week-by-week, a nasty disease also starts to make its present felt – Legionnaires’.

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 there were 48 hospitalisations from Legionnaires’ in Canterbury, and with 12 cases of the disease already confirmed in the region since June this year, gardeners are being urged to take care with potting mix and compost.

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

“It’s 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 of catching Legionnaires' disease as the bacteria thrive in bags of potting mix and compost,” says Dr Humphrey.

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 with a promising forecast this Labour weekend now is the time for people to take the necessary steps to avoid catching the disease.

Dr Humphrey says there are five simple actions gardeners should take to avoid getting legionnaires’:

  1. Open potting mix or compost carefully – use scissors instead of ripping the bag.
  2. Wear a well-fitting disposable face mask and gloves, and remember not to touch your mask when gardening.
  3. Reduce dust by dampening down potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water.
  4. Work with potting mix or compost in a well-ventilated outdoor area.
  5. Thoroughly wash your hands after handling potting mix or compost.

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

The illness may be mild but can sometimes be fatal. It is more common in older people, particularly if they smoke, have poor immunity or a chronic illness. However, sometimes even 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 for advice, and let them know you if have been handling potting mix or compost.

For more information on Legionnaires’, visit: https://www.healthinfo.org.nz/index.htm?Legionnaires-disease-legionellosis.htm

ENDS

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Page last updated: 29 October 2019

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