14 December 2018
Simple measures such as washing your hands and wearing a face mask while handling potting mix can help gardeners avoid contracting Legionnaires’ disease.

This is just some of the advice from NSW Health in time for the summer holiday season when people spend more time gardening.

Legionella longbeachae, one form of Legionnaires’ disease, is responsible for about 40 per cent of all Legionella cases in NSW, with 63 people contracting the potentially fatal disease this year.

While this strain is contracted through exposure to potting mix and compost, it differs from Legionella pneumophila caught through breathing in contaminated water droplets.

NSW Heath’s Director of Health Protection Dr Jeremy McAnulty issued a warning to gardeners about the risk of contracting Legionella longbeachae from potting mix and similar materials.

‘‘To many gardeners, potting mix may seem harmless, but it can actually be very dangerous unless the correct procedures are followed,’’ Dr McAnulty said.

‘‘Most people who breathe in the bacteria don’t become ill, but the chance of doing so increases if you’re older, a smoker or have a weakened immune system.”

Because Legionella bacteria can multiply in potting mix, to minimise the risk NSW Health advises people to always follow the manufacturer’s warnings on the outside of the bag before opening the mix.

“Put on a face mask and wear gardening gloves before you open the bag of potting mix and handle the contents,” Dr McAnulty said.

“You should also wet-down the material to reduce the dust, and make sure you wash your hands with soap and water after handling it.”

Care should also be taken when handling mulch and other soil products which may contain the bacteria that cause this strain of Legionnaires’.

It usually takes between two and ten days after exposure for a person to become ill. Symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, shortness of breath, a dry cough and aching muscles. People who suspect they may be ill should see their doctor.

For more on Legionnaires’ disease visit: Legionnaires' dieases.