Public Health officials urge safe handling of potting mix

Southern public health officials are reminding people about the importance of safe handling of potting mix, compost and soil to protect themselves against a potentially fatal illness, Legionnaires’ disease.

Dr Susan Jack, Medical Officer of Health Southern DHB says Legionnaires’ disease, also known as legionellosis, is a type of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria that commonly live in potting mix, compost and soil.

“In 2020 there have been six cases of legionellosis including one fatality in the Southern District, which followed 20 cases notified in Southern and, sadly, two fatalities in 2019.”

Dr Jack says flu-like symptoms can appear two to ten days after exposure to legionella bacteria. Symptoms present may be a cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle pains/aches, headaches, nausea and vomiting.

“If you experience any of these symptoms after gardening, we recommend that you talk to your doctor and inform them of your gardening activity. This will help them determine whether to test you for legionellosis. Early treatment is usually effective, however if you become very sick hospitalisation may be required.”

Risk factors for developing Legionnaires’ disease are:

  • Aged 60+
  • Current/former-smoker
  • Pre-existing conditions/compromised immune systems.


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