26 September 2023

Call for masks and gloves to clear garden dirt

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NSW Health is encouraging home gardeners to wear a face mask and gloves while handling potting mix and compost to avoid contracting Legionnaires’ disease.

Executive Director of NSW Health, Dr Jeremy McAnulty said legionella longbeachae bacteria was often found in potting mix and could cause the lung infection Legionnaires’ disease if someone inhaled dust from contaminated soil.

”Most people who breathe in the bacteria don’t become ill, but the risk of infection increases if you’re older, a smoker, or have a weakened immune system,” Dr McAnulty said.

“Wetting the potting mix first also helps prevent any contaminated potting mix dust blowing up into the air and being inhaled,” he said.

“Even if you’ve been wearing gloves, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating or drinking as the bacteria could still be there.”

Dr McAnulty said there had been 96 cases of Legionnaires’ disease so far this year from the type of bacteria that could be found in potting mix and soils in NSW, and 106 were reported last year.

He said symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease could develop up to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and included fever, chills, a cough, shortness of breath, aching muscles, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite and diarrhoea.

Legionella bacteria can multiply in bagged potting mix, mulch and other soil products,” the Executive Director warned.

To minimise the risk, he said people should always read and follow the manufacturer’s warnings on the outside of the bag.

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

“A more common source of Legionnaires’ disease is due to a different strain of bacteria, usually found in contaminated air conditioning cooling systems on large buildings,” he said.

“If you have ongoing or worsening symptoms, you should see your doctor or visit your local emergency department.”

Further information on Legionnaires’ disease can be accessed at this PS News link.

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