Hawke’s Bay gardeners warned over risk of Legionnaires’ with two cases reported

Hawke’s Bay gardeners are urged to take care with potting mix and compost following two people in recent weeks reported with Legionnaires’ disease in Hawke’s Bay.

Medical Officer of Health Dr Bridget Wilson said both cases of Legionnaires’ were investigated and likely caused from the inhalation of dust particles from potting mix.

“Legionnaires’ is a serious disease and gardeners are at a higher risk of catching it because the Legionella bacteria which lives in moist organic material thrives in bags of potting mix and compost,” said Dr Wilson.

“It’s important people understand the dangers of inhaling dust from potting mix or compost as more people get into their garden as the weather warms up.”

Cases of Legionnaires’, which is a form of pneumonia, typically spike across New Zealand in early November.

Dr Wilson said between 2015 and 2020, 15 Hawke’s Bay people had been diagnosed with Legionnaires’, many of whom required hospital care.

“Fortunately, the latest two cases did not need to be admitted to hospital however, they still required medical care. They are both recovering at home,” Dr Wilson said.

Symptoms can include a cough, fever, chills, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, headaches, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

Dr Wilson said there were five simple actions people could do to avoid getting it.

The five steps are:

  1. Work with potting mix or compost in a well-ventilated area outside.
  2. Open bags of compost or potting mix carefully and away from your face using scissors.
  3. Dampen down the potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water to reduce dust.
  4. Avoid touching your face. If possible wear a well-fitting disposable face mask and gloves but do not touch your mask while gardening.
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling potting mix or compost, or doing any gardening.

Dr Wilson said anyone, including healthy young people, could catch Legionnaires’ disease but the disease was more common in older people, smokers, or those with poor immunity or a chronic illness.

Anyone with Legionnaires’ symptoms should seek medical help from their doctor immediately and advise they have been handling potting mix or compost recently.

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