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Preventing legionnaires’ disease – advice for gardeners

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia. It’s caused by bacteria called legionella that lives in moist conditions. You can catch the disease by inhaling airborne droplets or particles containing the bacteria.

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.

Symptoms 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 right away and let them know if you have been handling potting mix or compost.

​Five simple steps to avoid Legionnaires' disease

Gardeners are at particular risk of catching Legionnaires' disease as the bacterium Legionella can be present in potting mix and compost. The bacteria thrives in warm, moist conditions and can cause a severe, even fatal disease if you inhale contaminated particles or droplets.

It is important gardeners follow five simple steps to avoid catching Legionnaires’ disease from potting mix or compost:

  1. Open potting mix or compost carefully – use scissors instead of ripping the bags
  2. Wear a well-fitting disposable face mask and gloves, and remember not to touch your face or 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. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling potting mix or compost.

Page last updated: 27 November 2018

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