'Great to be alive': Man's warning about Legionnaires' disease

Hastings man Ian Clayton was one of the two people recently hospitalised in Hawke's Bay with Legionnaires' disease. Photo: Hawke's Bay DHB via NZ Herald
Hastings man Ian Clayton was one of the two people recently hospitalised in Hawke's Bay with Legionnaires' disease. Photo: Hawke's Bay DHB via NZ Herald
A self-proclaimed "normal Kiwi bloke" was left flat on his back and coughing up blood at one point as he battled the potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease.

Ian Clayton, from Hastings, says it is ''great to be alive" after contracting the disease from potting mix.

"I was doing my gardening, using potting mix, and like a normal Kiwi bloke you read the labels on the potting mix but don't do anything about it.

"Like a normal Kiwi guy I had no face mask, no gloves. That will never happen again."

The 59-year-old, a keen gardener, was using potting mix to plant some seedlings in his greenhouse about two and a half weeks ago.

He began to feel unwell but thought he was just getting the flu. He started experiencing fevers, with a slight cough which later progressed to coughing up blood.

He was diagnosed with Legionnaires' in Hawke's Bay Hospital's emergency department and spent three days on a ward getting the medicine his body needed to recover.

And over seven days he slept for only seven hours.

"I contracted Legionnaires' disease through the potting mix, which set me on my back for six days," he said.

"I am a fit, healthy, Kiwi bloke, this thing's put me on my back for six days."

Clayton urged gardeners to wear a mask and gloves as he didn't want anyone going through what he had to after he became the second person to be diagnosed with the disease recently.

Hawke's Bay DHB Medical Officer of Health Rachel Eyre said both cases of Legionnaires', a serious and life-threatening disease, were investigated and likely caused from the inhalation of dust particles from potting mix.

"Gardeners are at higher risk of catching Legionnaires' disease as the Legionella bacteria which lives in moist organic material thrives in bags of potting mix and compost," Eyre said.

"With people enjoying warmer weather and getting out in their gardens, it is important they understand the dangers of inhaling dust from potting mix or compost which can cause Legionnaires' which is a form of pneumonia.

"Cases typically spike across New Zealand in early November, but in Hawke's Bay we normally see cases notified from September onwards attributed to our increased gardening activity."

Eyre said between 2015 and 2019, 16 Hawke's Bay people had been diagnosed with Legionnaires', 14 of which had needed hospital care.

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

According to Ministry of Health, Legionnaires' disease is caused by common Legionella bacteria, which live in the environment, especially in soil, compost, potting mix muds and any type of water system (for example, spa pools, hot water tanks).

MOH states that Legionellosis is not common in New Zealand and most people's natural immunity stops them from getting ill when exposed to Legionella bacteria.

All ages can be affected but the disease mainly affects people over 50 years of age, and generally men more than women. Smokers or ex-smokers, heavy drinkers and people with a compromised immune system are at a higher risk.

Susceptible people catch legionellosis by breathing in airborne particles from a water source that contains Legionella bacteria, or after inhaling dust from soil.

Once in the lungs the bacteria multiply and may cause a mild illness without pneumonia called Pontiac fever or a more severe illness with pneumonia (Legionnaires' disease).

The infection is not contagious and can't be caught from another person.

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