Te Whatu Ora is urging green fingered kiwis to guard against Legionnaires' disease during the spring and summer gardening season.
Legionnaires' disease or Legionellosis is an uncommon but dangerous ‘gardener’s’ pneumonia. There are various types, but one of the main strains is often caused by bacteria found in compost and potting mixes.
Medical Officer of Health Dr David Sinclair from the National Public Health Service says case numbers in New Zealand often spike in September, October and November during spring gardening season.
“Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal, but it’s also very easy for gardeners to protect themselves against it” said Dr Sinclair.
“By following a few simple precautions you can reduce your risk when handling compost and potting mix. Most importantly dig out a well-fitting facemask to wear, put on gloves, damp down soil and wash your hands when you’re done.”
Public health services across New Zealand have already started seeing an uptick in spring time Legionnaires' disease notifications.
In the Auckland region case numbers for all types of Legionnaires’ disease in 2022 are the highest they’ve been in five years, while nationally there have been more than 140 cases in the year to date.
Typically, around 60% of Legionnaires’ disease cases each year are the Longbeachae type, which is linked to the bacteria found in compost and potting mix.
Te Whatu Ora is keen to reduce the risk of further cases this year particularly given the serious health outcomes Legionnaires’ disease can cause.
“The disease is uncommon but it can be really severe, so it’s important to take it seriously” added Dr Sinclair.
“The risk is higher for older people, as well as those who smoke, have lung conditions or a weakened immune system. As it can’t be spread from person to person it’s quite simple to keep yourself safe.
“Gardeners just need to remember to gear up when they get out there this Labour weekend and beyond.”
Gear up when handling compost, potting mix and compost products.
1. Mask up and wear gloves
Use well-fitting disposable face mask (like the medical masks people used during COVID-19) and wear gloves when handling compost and potting mix.
2. Cut (don’t rip)
Open bags of compost or potting mix carefully and away from your face using scissors.
3. Work outside
Work with compost or potting mix in a well-ventilated outdoor area.
4. Compost is dry? Damp it down
Dampen down compost or potting mix to reduce dust.
5. Soap it up
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after the work is done.
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